'Not easy': Leeds Rhinos' Nene Macdonald on playing during Ramadan fast, own form and Rohan Smith reunion

Rugby league is a tough game, but even harder if players aren’t able to eat or drink before a match.
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Leeds Rhinos’ fightback to beat Catalans Dragons last weekend owed much to three-quarter Nene Macdonald, who made a big contribution with 17 carries, five tackle busts and 165 metres made.

Those statistics were made more impressive by the fact the Papua New Guinea-born player is fasting during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which began last Wednesday.

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Until it ends on April 21, Muslims do not eat or drink between dawn and sunset, which obviously meant unusual preparation for Macdonald ahead of last weekend’s 1pm kick-off.

Nene Macdonald. Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com.Nene Macdonald. Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com.
Nene Macdonald. Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com.

“It’s not easy,” he admitted. “It was tough on the weekend, but the boys understand I am doing it and it is good having them take a run for me or a carry for me.

“At the back end I was really feeling it, it is hard because of not drinking water and I had to get up at 4am to have something to eat, then I couldn’t eat until 6.30 that night. Rugby league’s a tough game, but you can do it when you put your mind to it.”

Macdonald will be able to take on fluids before Friday’s game at Hull KR, which has an 8pm star.

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“It’ll boost me, just having something to drink,” he said. “On the field your lips and throat get dry so not having enough water is a killer.”

Nene Macdonald (number four) celebrates after Derrell Olpherts' try against Catalans. Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com.Nene Macdonald (number four) celebrates after Derrell Olpherts' try against Catalans. Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com.
Nene Macdonald (number four) celebrates after Derrell Olpherts' try against Catalans. Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com.

Rhinos’ strength and conditioning staff, led by performance director Richard Hunwicks, have been providing expert advice.

“They’ve been very good,” Macdonald said. “Rich has sent smoothies and food to have and he’s been really helpful.

“When I get up I try to put as much as I can in my body and at night as well before I go to sleep, so I can get enough rest.”

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Teammate Aidan Sezer is also observing Ramadan. Anyone who is unwell is not required to fast and he was allowed to eat and drink before last week’s game because of a stomach bug.

Rhinos' Aidan Sezer. Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com.Rhinos' Aidan Sezer. Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com.
Rhinos' Aidan Sezer. Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com.

Macdonald joined Rhinos in pre-season after featuring for Papua New Guinea in last year’s World Cup.

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He has experience in the NRL with Sydney Roosters, Gold Coast Titans, St George-Illawarra Dragons, North Queensland Cowboys and Cronulla Sharks and was a member of Leigh’s Betfred Championship-winning side last year.

He missed Rhinos’ opening game of the season, but has played in their last five games and reckons he is beginning to find his feet.

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“I am pretty happy so far,” he said. “With a new team you’re not sure how you’re going to go, but since I’ve joined Leeds the boys have been very welcoming and that plays a big part in how you perform and how you feel off the field as well.

“I am really enjoying playing for Leeds. When you have a good team and good people off the pitch it gives you that extra boost.”

The win over Catalans came after Rhinos trailed 22-8 at half-time and Macdonald believes it has set a standard for when they travel to Hull KR on Friday.

“That’s what we’ve got in us,” he said. “We just want to click, playing together and once we do that, like we did in that second-half, we’ll be a tough team to beat.

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“We’ve got strike power all across the field and I am pretty excited for the season ahead of us.”

On a personal note, Macdonald feels he has “a lot more” to offer. He added: “Hopefully the team are learning how I play as well.

“I like to just float around and be everywhere. I think I am still improving and I can’t wait to keep playing.”

Macdonald played for Rhinos coach Rohan Smith at Norths Devils in Australia’s Queensland Cup before moving to England.

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“It has been good,” he said of being reunited with his former boss. “He understands how I like to play the game and I like his playing style. It’s good to be playing under him again.”

Macdonald’s first four appearances for Leeds were at centre, but he started on the left-wing against Catalans.

“Rohan knows - and I always say to whoever’s coaching me - I will play wherever I am needed,” he insisted.

“I am not too fussy. If the team needs me on the wing, I’ll play on the wing; if the team needs me at centre I’ll play at centre; if the team needs me at front-row, I’ll play front-row. I just love to play.”