Leeds Rhinos news as ex-Bath and Harlequins star Lewis Boyce reveals background to rugby league switch
Boyce is from Middlesbrough, but came through union club Yorkshire Carnegie’s academy before spells at the top of that code with Harlequins and Bath. He ended last season at Ealing Trailfinders and reckons dipping his toe in league waters has helped him regain his love for rugby.
Though there’s a long way to go before the 27-year-old - who was called into the England squad ahead of the 2018 Six Nations, but did not feature in the tournament - plays a competitive game in the 13-a-side ranks, but he is now into his third week training with Rhinos and reckons he is getting to grips with a new sport.
“It has all been going really well,” Boyce said of his time with Leeds so far. “I am enjoying it, there’s nothing set in stone as far as me staying or anything, it is just a chance for me to explore rugby league and for them to have a look at me.”
Boyce’s Carnegie connection means he is familiar with league and he insisted: “I’ve always wanted to play, but it was one of those where I was making a name for myself in rugby union and good things were coming my way and I didn’t want to just throw that away for something I wasn’t sure on.”
Most players who have crossed codes to league have played in the backs, but as a loosehead-prop in union, Boyce faces an even bigger challenge. One of Leeds’ last high-profile raids on union, in 1990, saw Welsh front-rower David Young join them from Cardiff.
Signed for a £150,000 fee, Young, who was capped by Wales and British Lions, played only seven first team games over two seasons for Leeds, though he had more success at Salford before returning to union when that code went openly professional.
Boyce knows how tough it is to convert a union prop’s skills to league, but has slimmed down since the last time he played and feels he can make a go of it. “I’d like to,” he said. “It doesn’t really make sense, a rugby union prop playing rugby league, but I feel athletically I have got the ability to do so and I’d like to do it if I can. It definitely gives me something to strive for.
“When I chat to the other lads, everyone’s saying I don’t look out of place. I’ve got myself in decent shape to be playing rugby league. There’s been a bit of time off between the rugby union season and rugby league pre-season so I have had a bit of time to trim down.”
Rhinos have given several union players an opportunity to train with them in recent seasons, though none has signed a contract. Boyce’s chance came about through his agent and the player recalled: “I had lost a bit of love for rugby union, I wasn’t too sure what I wanted to do so I said to him ‘what do you think about me playing rugby league’?
“I thought it would give me a spark back for the sport and he said ‘why not, let’s give it a dig’. He believed I could do it so he put it out there and it was Leeds who came back. There’s no timescale, I’ll just see how it goes.”
Having been a Carnegie player when the two clubs shared facilities, Boyce knows all about the set-up at Leeds. He stated: “It’s spot on, the culture they have here is really good. Everyone comes to training and wants to be better and they all want to win something.
“I don’t know the ins and outs, but I don’t think last season was where they wanted to be, from what I’ve heard, so they are definitely striving to be on top this year.”
He has also been impressed with Rhinos’ props. He added: There’s some big dudes, I was quite shocked at the size of some of the lads. I’ve gone over as a front-rower and all those boys are impressive - big Mik [Oledzki], Sam Lisone, Justin Sangare and they’ve just signed a young lad from Sunderland, Kieran Hudson.
“They are all impressive fellas and I’ve been learning off them. There’s some talent in the front -row and all across the squad.”
With Boyce and Hudson both in the camp, Rhinos have two north east accents, which is unusual for Super League. “We’ve been laughing about it,” Boyce said. “Sunderland being Mackems and Middlesbrough being Smoggies, we wouldn’t normally see eye to eye, but in that environment we are sticking together! He is a good fella.”