Full steam ahead for Gary Hetherington after 25 years at the helm of Leeds Rhinos

AS HE marks the 25th anniversary of taking over as the club’s chief executive, Leeds Rhinos’ Gary Hetherington insists he has no plans to finish any time soon.

Friday, 29th October 2021, 6:00 am
Updated Friday, 29th October 2021, 11:04 am
Today marks the 25th anniversary of Gary Hetherington taking over as chief executive at Leeds Rhinos. Picture: Gary Longbottom.

At 67, no-one would begrudge one of the sport’s most highly-respected administrators taking a back seat, especially given he commands such a high-profile job. However, Hetherington, who has helped inspire and create one of Super League’s great dynasties, does not what to contemplate that prospect. Certainly not yet.

It was on October 29, 1996 that he and Paul Caddick came together to become the new board of Leeds CF&A plus new owners of Leeds RLFC – £5m in debt and on the brink of collapse – and Headingley.

What has happened since, of course, has been stunning, with Leeds rebranding as the Rhinos and going on to become one of the pre-eminent forces in Super League, no club winning more than their eight Grand Finals.

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But Hetherington has also helped find a way to restore Headingley Stadium to a modern, iconic and world-class sporting venue for both international rugby league and Test match cricket.

He has also led the creation of the charity Leeds Rhinos Foundation, which delivers projects in the heart of the community, and which was one of Hetherington’s initial four key objectives a quarter of a century ago – making a difference in the community.

Looking back on 25 years at the helm, the Castlefordian is rightly “very proud” and the other key objectives – providing the city with a team to be proud of, turning a loss-making business into a sustainable one and restoring Headingley – have all been achieved.

He added: “The most satisfaction is from the culture and team work ethic that has built over the years from our staff and management, many of whom started their working lives with us and now have 10 and, in some cases, 20 years’ service and are stronger than ever.”

Gary Hetherington, left, and Paul Caddick pictured on their first day at the helm on October 29, 1996. Picture: Charles Knight.

But, in terms of stepping aside, Hetherington conceded there is no date in mind – especially when he clearly remains so driven.

“I am 67, and when people say retirement, I can’t think of anything worse,” he said.

“Every morning I get up, I know exactly what I’m doing and what I’ve got on that day.

“If I had days where I got up and wondered ‘what am I going to do today?’, how frustrating would that be?

“I didn’t necessarily not miss playing because I was coaching as well. It was like a seamless transition. And I didn’t necessarily not miss coaching because I then came here and was busy.

“However, if there’d been a period where I’d stopped playing, stopped coaching and I didn’t have anything to do [with rugby league] I would have struggled.

“That’s clearly a problem players have. We have a real responsibility to help them through that next phase of their life.”

Long-serving commercial director Rob Oates is now a shareholder in the business along with Hetherington and Caddick. Rhinos legend Kevin Sinfield was back at Headingley as director of rugby and seen potentially by some as Hetherington’s long-term successor but he left to become Leicester Tigers’ defence coach in August.

Hetherington conceded: “Naturally, I’m a succession planner. I can show 10 years ago I was planning what we thought the team would look like in three years’ time, then four years’ time and you could go back 15 years with coaches.

“I’m quite big on that. Not that it’s set in stone because things can change. It’s important in our business as, while on one hand it’s a real strength having all our heads of department who have come through our club, the weakness is sometimes that you don’t get external lateral thinking.

“You are mindful of that. But, in terms of going forward, even though I’m not giving up tomorrow – I haven’t set a date – you do get to an age where things change don’t they?

“So we need to be conscious and aware of them.

“I think the strength of our organisation is not necessarily me: it’s the strength of all the individual management and staff.”

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