NOT MANY players can say they won a cup final on debut, but young Leeds Rhinos forward Muizz Mustapha has done just that.
Mustapha was one of three rookies signed by Featherstone Rovers from Leeds Rhinos’ academy on emergency loan.
The trio, also including fellow pack men Tyler Dupree and James Barraclough, made their first – and possibly only – appearance for Rovers in last Sunday’s Betfred Championship Shield when Leigh Centurions were crushed 42-10 at LD Nutrition Stadium, Post Office Road.
All three impressed, with Dupree scoring a fine try and Barraclough catching the eye with his workrate in defence, but Mustapha in particular had the Rovers fans buzzing with his hard-running style.
In his post-match press conference coach John Duffy hailed the trio’s contribution as “absolutely fantastic” and made it clear they would be welcome back at Featherstone in the future.
Mustapha described his first taste of senior action as “amazing” and now has his sights set on a breakthrough in 2019.
He said: “It was a wonderful experience. It was a pleasure [to play for Rovers]. I was a little bit nervous, but I really enjoyed it.
“I just tried my best, ran as hard as I could and did whatever I could.”
The Leeds contingent had just two training sessions with Rovers before the final.
“We trained on Thursday, had the last run on Saturday and played on Sunday,” Mustapha confirmed.
With both clubs ravaged by injuries, the Rugby Football League granted them special dispensation to sign Super League academy players, without first-team experience, to ensure the final was 17-a-side.
Leigh fielded six temporary recruits including four who had played for Wigan Warriors when they beat Rhinos in the academy Grand Final two weeks earlier and that made the victory extra sweet for the Leeds contingent.
“It was good to get one over on them,” Mustapha admitted. “We [Rhinos under-19s] had a good year.
“It has been a pleasure working with Rob [Burrow, Rhinos’ academy boss]. He is a great coach and he has really helped me kick on.”
Mustapha, who was born in Nigeria but brought up in Leeds, joined Rhinos’ academy from Hunslet Warriors ahead of the 2017 season after coming through Rhinos’ scholarship and under-16s at the same time as Harry Newman – who is dual-registered with Rovers – and Featherstone’s 2019 signing Kiedan Hartley.
He will be in his third and final year as an academy-qualified player next year and is likely to interest Featherstone when they speak to Leeds about dual-registration and loan recruits.
He is keen to play first-team rugby next year, at whatever level and said: “That’s what I need now. I am working towards that and hopefully I can kick on. I will just try my best. It would be a pleasure to play for Featherstone again; they are a good set of boys.”