THERE ARE two types of rugby league fans: those who don’t rate Ryan Hall as the best winger in Super League and those who understand the game.
Hall’s departure at the end of this season, to join NRL club Sydney Roosters, is another step in the break-up of Leeds Rhinos’ – and Super League’s – most successful team.
Whereas the likes of fellow legends Kevin Sinfield, Jamie Peacock and Rob Burrow retired and Danny McGuire moved on to prolong his career, Hall is leaving at a time when he is playing as well as he ever did.
The 30-year-old may no longer be the prolific try scorer he was in his early years – when he touched down more than 30 times in four successive seasons from 2009-2012 – but he remains in a class of his own among English wings.
The last few seasons must have been dispiriting at times, when Rhinos’ style of play meant he was starved of the ball while his rivals had tries coming out of their ears
Even so he is the fifth-highest try scorer in the club’s history, with 231 in 327 appearances, has never given less than 100 per cent and always stood up on the big occasion.
When the likes of Sinfield and Peacock departed not enough was done to fill the gaps. Rhinos can’t afford to make the same mistake again.Peter Smith
Hall’s game is now more about safe hands, strong clearing runs and a willingness to help out his forwards and there’s nobody better at that.
Built like a front-rower, Hall – 6ft 1ins tall and weighing in at 17st 3lb – is not particularly the kind of acrobatic finisher Super League has become famous for since the corner flag was removed from play.
But give him half a gap and he will take it, as he illustrated with his touchdown for England during their recent Test win over New Zealand in Denver.
Hall has specialised in that sort of tight – and often powerful – finish and that’s what won him the Lance Todd Trophy as Wembley man of the match against Castleford Tigers four years ago.
A well-liked character around the club, Hall – a maths whiz who plays piano and can complete the Rubik’s Cube – will leave Rhinos fans with some golden memories.
He made his debut in the most notorious match in Super League’s history, Leeds’ 2007 Magic Weekend win over Bradford Bulls when Jordan Tansey came from an offside position to snatch a last-gasp winning try after Sinfield’s 80th-minute penalty had rebounded off the metalwork.
A six-time Grand Final winner – and try scorer in three of those – he really burst on to the scene in 2009 when he was Super League’s top try scorer and young player of the season, plus international rookie of the year.
He was named in the international team of the year in 2012, having scored a spectacular long-range try in Rhinos’ World Club Challenge win over Manly Sea Eagles.
But one moment stands above all the others. Rhinos’ treble success in 2015 crowned the greatest season in Leeds’ history, but it almost didn’t happen. With one second remaining in their final game of the Super-8s, Rhinos were drawing at Huddersfield Giants and set to finish as runners-up in the table behind Wigan Warriors.
As the hooter sounded McGuire tried a chip over the defence and Hall gathered to race away and score one of the most memorable and significant tries of the summer era.
It is no wonder Australian NRL club Sydney Roosters want to add Hall to their squad and – while a shame for Leeds – the move is a fabulous opportunity for a player who has nothing left to prove to anyone at Rhinos or in Super League.
Hall is still at his peak, but there won’t be many big contracts left and this is a rare opportunity to shine in the world’s top competition.
How to replace someone who’s irreplaceable is the challenge facing Rhinos now. A few years ago they’d have thrown a pile of cash and several players at Wakefield Trinity to bring in Tom Johnstone, but those days seem to have gone.
When the likes of Sinfield and Peacock departed not enough was done to fill the gaps. Rhinos can’t afford to make the same mistake again.