Introducing Leeds Rhinos youngster Max Simpson: 17-year-old centre has swapped Headingley's stands for a place in full-time squad

The latest teenager to join Leeds Rhinos’ full-time squad, Max Simpson, can summarise the past three months in one word: “Surreal”.

By Peter Smith
Thursday, 27th January 2022, 6:00 am

Simpson was gearing up for a season in Rhinos’ academy when he was suddenly promoted into the first team group following fellow centre Corey Hall’s transfer to Wakefield Trinity.

The 17-year-old made his first senior appearance in the second half of Rhinos’ pre-season win at Featherstone Rovers two weeks ago and played the full 80 minutes against Bradford Bulls last Sunday, scoring two tries.

He is now regularly training alongside the likes of star recruits Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer, as well as players he used to cheer from the stands as a fan.

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Max Simpson has been training with Rhinos' full-time squad since November. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com.

“It is a bit surreal, to be honest,” Simpson admitted.

“I got a pretty late call up before this pre-season to go into the first team.

“It was totally unexpected, I had already started training with the academy for a couple of weeks and in a blink of an eye I was training with internationals and world-class players.

“It is surreal, but you kind of get used to it after the first couple of weeks, they are all normal lads and you talk to them like you would to anyone else.”

Max Simpson with Rhinos coach Richard Agar. Picture by Leeds Rhinos.

Simpson joined Rhinos’ scholarship from the Kippax community club in 2019 and the four-year contract he signed last November was evidence of how highly he is rated by Leeds’ management.

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He gave travelling fans a glimpse of his potential last weekend, particularly with his first try when he took an offload from Jack Walker, weaved past Bulls’ full-back and outpaced the cover on a dash to the line

“I played the last 10 minutes on the wing and I was pleased to get on for the full game,” he reflected.

“Being an outside-back that’s what you want to do, play the full game.

“I got a taste of it against Fev in the second half, but it was a much more eventual game for the backs [last Sunday].

“It was the biggest crowd I have ever played in front of.

“Bradford-Leeds is a massive derby with the history of it in Super League and you could feel some of the tension of it was still there, but I enjoyed it.”

Of his spectacular first try, Simpson recalled: “I was pleased.

“Jack Walker had been getting his body through quite a few trackles so I thought I’d chance my arm and push alongside him - and before I knew it, I was under the sticks.”

Scoring in a win at Odsal was a special moment for someone who has been a Leeds fan “ever since I was five or six, when I started playing the game”.

The success Rhinos enjoyed while he was growing up makes picking a favourite player difficult.

“It’s a tough choice considering the team I was watching play for most of my life,” he said.

“Positionally, I would probably have to say Keith Senior, though he was towards the back end of his career when I started seeing him.

“And Kallum Watkins when he was in his prime; he was immense, the skill he had in the centre.”

Rhinos coach Richard Agar will field his strongest-available side against Hull in Tom Briscoe’s testimonial game on Sunday, which is Leeds’ final first team hit out of pre-season.

Simpson is likely to play for an academy/reserve squad against Hunslet in the annual Harry Jepson OBE Memorial Trophy tie a week later and is not thinking about a Super League debut this year.

“I haven’t really looked that far ahead, to be honest,” he admitted.

“Coming into this pre-season, I’d be grateful for any minutes I got.

“It is my job to do my best when I play and show what I can do.

“I was lucky enough to get the full-80 the other day, but I will just focus on playing reserves or whatever games are coming up in the academy.

“I just want to be playing rugby every week and playing my best rugby, whatever team I get picked for.”

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