PATIENCE HAS paid off for community club East Leeds, who face West Hull tomorrow in the National Conference Trophy final at Headingley Carnegie (11.45am).
After years of struggle, Easts climbed from the Conference’s second division to the top flight in successive years and their appearance in the knockout competition final marks the culmination of a stunning rise by the current players and coaching staff.
“When I took over we were in the first division,” coach Peter Clarkson recalled. “We got relegated in our first season.
“We had two seasons in the second division and we were winning maybe three games and then five or six and then they started talking about summer rugby and that’s when it changed for us.
“The players that are with us now were with us then, but they were young. They took a few beatings from teams, but they took those lessons and they learned from them.
“They have all grown up together and now they are coming of age.
“A few of them have been away to professional clubs, but for whatever reason they have come back and they’ve made East Leeds stronger.”
The fact tomorrow’s final is being played at the home of Leeds Rhinos will make it even more memorable.
Clarkson – who is a coach in Rhinos’ youth system and the father of Leeds forward Chris Clarkson – said: “It’s very special.
“The lads are really looking forward to playing at Headingley. We’ve got six who’ve played there before in academy rugby – Tom Sheldrake, Jake Normington, George Clarke, Ryan Gaunt, Kyle Quinlan and Declan Tomlinson – and it will be special for them, but it is a massive day for the club.
“As far as I am aware the club has never been involved in anything like this before. It is great for people like Malcolm Waite, who has been at the club forever.
“I’m also really pleased for David Cosgrove, our team manager and Russ Fanning, the physio.
“They have been with me since I started and they never get any recognition, but they do a great job and it is fantastic for them.”
Standing in Easts’ way are possibly the best team in the community game.
“West Hull have beaten us twice this year,” Clarkson said. “I can’t honestly say we should have won either of those games if we’d done this or that.
“They were worthy winners, but every defeat we’ve had this year, we’ve learned from it and come back a bit stronger.”