after waiting 20 months for his Leeds Rhinos debut, Andy Yates had just a few minutes’ notice of his big moment.
Yates was due to be 18th man for last Friday’s home clash with Widnes Vikings, but found himself drafted onto the bench after Kylie Leuluai was taken ill during the warm-up.
“We did the warm-up, came into the changing rooms and I was about to put my waterboy top on and Mac (coach Brian McDermott) came over and said ‘you’re playing, Kylie’s pulled out’,” Yates revealed. It was a big shock. I had prepared to play because if you’re 18th man you have to, but I was just made up to make my debut.”
Yates, who will celebrate his 25th birthday a week today, signed for Rhinos, from Hunslet Hawks, on June 28, 2013. He completed that campaign with the south Leeds club, but suffered an Achilles injury at the start of pre-season which kept him sidelined until mid-June last year. The former St Helens and England academy prop played one comeback game on dual-reg’ with Hunslet, but tore a biceps and that put him out of action for the rest of the year. He impressed in Rhinos’ pre-season games and finally made his Super League debut when he came on eight minutes from the end of Friday’s 38-6 victory.
“It was a massive relief, because last year was a nightmare,” Yates admitted. “I was nervous, just wanting to get on. I was thinking ‘am I going to get on’, but I finally did. I didn’t have long to play, but I thought I did all right. I just wanted to make my tackles and try and touch the ball as much as possible and I think I did that. Hopefully I’ve got a lot more to offer, I just need to keep playing and build confidence. It is like a big weight coming off my shoulders and now I’ve finally made my debut I can build on this and get as many games for Leeds as possible.” Yates said he owes a lot to coach McDermott. “Putting me in so early in the season shows a lot of faith in me,” he said. “I just want to repay that and do as well as I can.”
Leeds’ victory made Yates’ first appearance more special
He added: “Everyone was in a great mood and we sung the song at the end of the game.
“Hopefully we can carry this form on. We did a lot of work in pre-season on our attack and I think it’s shown in the two games so far. We always work on defence, but I think we’ll try and score a lot of tries this year. Our defence hasn’t been bad and as a team we just try and work with each other and help each other out. That showed on Friday, conceding only six points. We can be happy with that.”
McDermott paid tribute to Yates for backing himself after he was released by Saints without playing a senior game.
Said the coach: “Who knows what the future holds for Andy Yates, but he made a tough call when he was shown the door by Saints, for whatever reason.
“Maybe he hadn’t improved enough at the time and that’s a good call by Saints, but then he made a tough call to go to Hunslet, with no other reason than to be spotted by us. He travelled across from Saints to Hunslet, training with them two or three times a week on less money, with the notion that we may spot him, which happened, then he gets signed with us. It’s a decent story there for Andy Yates. I am pleased for him that he got some game time. “The game was pretty much in our favour by the time he went on, but I’m sure he will get more games this year.”
Rhinos under-16s, meanwhile, made it two wins from two this season with a 26-10 victory over Wigan Warriors at Stanningley. Dyson Nicholson, Eddie Wilcock, Mikolaj Oledski, Cameron Smith and Kieron Hainsworth were the try scorers. Jack Walker kicked two goals and Smith added one.