'It's been a whirlwind': Luke Hooley talks move to Leeds Rhinos, facing New Zealand and Championship talent
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Hooley, 24, joined Rhinos on a two-year contract last Wednesday, three days after playing for Batley Bulldogs in the Betfred Championship million pound match against Leigh Centurions.
He was expecting a few weeks off before beginning pre-season, but answered a call to play for Leeds in their challenge game against New Zealand and - despite the 74-0 defeat - reckons that was an “unbelievable” experience.
Hooley said. “I thought I was done after the Championship finished, I thought I was ready for a couple of weeks off and then to get ready for pre-season, but Rohan gave me a call and said ‘do you fancy a few minutes against New Zealand’ and I said yes.
“I looked at the team sheet before the game and just thought ‘how have I ended up playing against these people’?
“They are outstanding, there’s some of the best NRL players you’ll ever watch in that team, but it was a great atmosphere.”
Hooley added: “It has been a whirlwind, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. Everything has come at once, so I think [I’ll have] a well deserved few weeks off now.
“Leeds Rhinos are one of the biggest clubs in the world, but I have literally not thought about what has gone on so far.
“Everything has just happened all of a sudden - my head was in the play-offs and we got to the Grand Final, which nobody thought we were going to do.
“To get the call this week [to play against New Zealand], I said to my missus after the game, I am not doing anything for three weeks now - I am chilling out and not doing anything else.
“I’m massively looking forward to getting back in. I will rest up, but I’ll be ready for pre-season.”
Preparations for the 2023 campaign begin in a month’s time and Hood said: “I can’t wait. It will be outstanding to get another shot at pre-season and then hopefully get a shirt in that one-17 come the first game of the season.”
Hooley had a spell in Wakefield Trinity’s academy and was included in their first team squad, but left to join Batley three years ago without having made a first team appearance.
“Getting back into Super League was always my goal,” he admitted. “When I went to Batley I thought it was over, but I always said to them that’s where I want to be. To get it and finally achieve that goal, I am proud of myself.”
Speculation over Rhinos’ interest began midway through the campaign and he admitted it was a relief when the move was confirmed.
“I felt like there was a lot of [pressure on me to finish the season strong because we’d just made the play-offs and as soon as people hear rumours the crowd gets on your back and you feel like you’ve got to perform and do stuff you wouldn’t really do,” he said.
“When I told Batley, I felt a lot of pressure, I didn’t know when it would get announced, but luckily that was done after the season finished.”
Hooley will be hoping to make a similar impact in Super League to another player plucked from Bulldogs, St Helens and England prop Alex Walmsley.
Another England forward, Joe Batchelor, was playing in the second tier with York City Knights when he was snapped up by Saints and Rhinos have adopted a similar approach to recruitment for 2023.
The four signings announced so far all played in the lower divisions this year - Hooley, Toby Warren of York and Wigan’s James McDonnell, who was on loan at Leigh, in the Championship and Leon Ruan for League One Doncaster.
Hooley reckons there’s a pool of talent in the semi-professional ranks just waiting to be given an opportunity at the top level.
“There’s a lot of players that go unnoticed, players that do the stuff that don’t get the credit,” he said.
“In the Batley team there’s a player, Ben White, who I think would fit into any Super League team. There’s a lot of talent in the Championship.”
Meanwhile, the RFL have confirmed they will be taking no action against Hooley over an allegation of biting during a win over Dewsbury Rams in August.