LEEDS RHINOS legend Adrian Morley has never been one to shirk a challenge, but even by his Herculean standards this week will be one of his toughest yet.
Having only returned on Wednesday from scaling Kilimanjaro and breaking the world record for the highest game of rugby ever played, the 38 year-old enters the fray for the final time against New Zealand tonight.
The four-time Challenge Cup winner’s storied career will come full circle this evening, as Morley finishes it where he started – wearing the badge of the Rhinos – when he guests against the touring Kiwis at Headingley.
It is 15 years since the totemic forward last pulled on Leeds’ colours, but his presence still looms large over the club.
“The changing room is exactly the same, actually,” he said, after a brief training session at Headingley yesterday. “My peg is still up in the boot room, as well, with the name Morley on. After 15 years, it’s nice to still be remembered.”
Although time has passed, there are a few familiar faces still around that Morley recognises.
“Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow were here at the time, as kids,” he said.“Kev (Sinfield) was coming through, (timekeeper) Billy Watts is still here and a few on the administrative side.
“Lots of things change but some things stay the same as well.”
Morley, who debuted with Leeds in 1995 and won the Challenge Cup with them four years later, has returned to the Rhinos’ patch several times with his other Super League clubs Warrington and Salford, to a somewhat mixed reception from the vocal home faithful.
“Now I get a chance to play in front of the South Stand again,” he added, having left Headingley for Sydney Roosters in 2000, earning legendary status at the NRL club, too.
“They normally boo me, so I hope I get a good reception!
“Playing the Kiwis is special because that’s the first international team I played against for Great Britain, so it ticks a lot of boxes.”
Morley and 37 others climbed Mount Kilimanjaro last week in aid of the Steve Prescott Foundation.
He emphasised the sheer physical challenge posed by the altitude.
“It was really, really tough,” admitted the former England captain.
“The actual climbing wasn’t demanding, it was just the altitude.
“I got to Gilman’s Point, the one below the summit and it was like someone flicked a switch. I was stumbling all over.
“The guards were worried as I wasn’t in great shape, but thankfully I did it, although I had to be stretchered down.
“I’ve climbed Kilimanjaro and now I’m playing against the Kiwis – I’m not ready for pipe and slippers just yet, but after this game I might be!”
Leeds will field nine members of their Grand Final-winning team against the tourists at Headingley but Kevin Sinfield will not be among them.
The Rhinos’ record-breaking captain has been ruled out with a hand injury sustained in the win over Wigan at Old Trafford almost a fortnight ago which means that his rugby league career is officially at an end as he prepares to switch codes with Yorkshire Carnegie.
Jamie Peacock is also missing from the Leeds team but fellow front-row Kylie Leuluai, who is also retiring, will play one final game before hanging up his boots.
He will line up alongside former Leeds legend Ali Lauitiiti, the Wakefield Trinity and former Kiwi second-row who, like Morley, returns to make one final appearance in blue and amber.