HEADINGLEY HERO Brian McClennan will have divided loyalties when he returns to his old patch next week.
McClennan will travel from New Zealand to be a guest at Leeds Rhinos’ one-off game against the Kiwi touring side at Headingley next Friday.
He coached Rhinos from November 2007 to October 2010, winning two Super League titles, but is also a former Kiwi team boss.
“It’s going to be a special game,” said McClennan, who was in charge of New Zealand when they won the Tri-Nations, beating Australia in the final at Elland Road, a decade ago. “It is my two favourite teams, the Rhinos and the Kiwis. I am footy mad and I like the history of touring teams playing club sides.
“I like a bit of nostalgia and it will be a cracking game. I can’t wait to get over there. It will be a good night and you would be mad to miss that type of occasion.”
McClennan led celebrations on the other side of the world when his former club competed their historic clean-sweep of trophies last weekend.
“What a good year for the Rhinos,” he enthused. “I have been following it. I didn’t see the [Super League] semi-final, because I was at the NRL Grand Final in Sydney. We had a 2005 Kiwis reunion, but I watched the game when I got back and I thought it was fantastic, how the Headingley crowd got behind the team and JP (Jamie Peacock), Kev (Sinfield) and Kylie (Leuluai).
“I watched the Grand Final live last week and that was fantastic. We get all the Super League games live and the footy show, so we get good coverage in New Zealand.”
McClennan said he was delighted for Peacock, Sinfield and Leuluai, who all ended their Rhinos career by winning every available trophy. He added: I am pleased for them, what a fitting way for them to finish. It really was like a fairytale for them and all the other boys. For Magsy (Danny McGuire) and all the other boys I know so well, like Hally (Ryan Hall) and Abbo (Carl Ablett), I was really pleased for them.”
McClennan, who had a spell in charge of New Zealand Warriors after leaving Leeds, reckons Rhinos’ success comes from the top.
“The club is just run so well,” he said. “Gary (Hetherington) runs the club really well and everybody there upholds some pretty special values. They are reaping their rewards, they have got a fantastic record at Old Trafford and once they get there, they are hard to beat.”
McClennan will attend a dinner in Leeds, to mark the 10th anniversary of the Rhinos Foundation, on Wednesday and he said: “My wife Julie is coming over as well and it will be good to catch up with all the friends we’ve got over there.
“We had such a wonderful time in Leeds, not just the footy, but being part of the community. We loved it.”
Meanwhile, Ali Lauitiiti, who played 200 times for Leeds from 2004-2011 before joining Wakefield Trinity Wildcats, will make a guest appearance for Rhinos against New Zealand. Hetherington said: “The reception he always receives from the Leeds fans whenever he has returned to Headingley Carnegie with Wakefield shows the love and respect Rhinos supporters still have for him and it should make it an unforgettable evening to see him back in blue and amber.”