Why Leeds Rhinos were praised after Headingley broke new ground for Super League

Emerald Headingley's seven-game spell as Betfred Super League’s first secure neutral venue has been hailed as an “outstanding” success.

Tuesday, 11th August 2020, 12:51 pm
Updated Tuesday, 11th August 2020, 12:53 pm

Leeds Rhinos’ home ground staged the competition’s first two weekends following the long coronavirus shutdown.

All seven matches were played behind closed doors with only squads, stadium staff and media allowed access.

St Helens will take over as this weekend’s venue, for games including Rhinos against Wigan on Saturday evening.

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Emerald Headingley hosted seven games over three separate days. Picture by James Hardisty.

Wakefield Trinity play Saints and Castleford Tigers challenge Hull the next day.

The following Saturday’s Coral Challenge Cup sixth round - when Castleford face Hull again and Wakefield take on Catalans Dragons - is due to be held at Huddersfield’s John Smith’s Stadium.

Warrington Wolves will stage Super League round 10, with Leeds meeting Salford Red Devils and Wakefield playing the hosts on Saturday, August 29.

Dates and venues from September onwards have yet to be confirmed and Headingley could be used again.

Sue Ward with Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington. Picture by Varley Picture Agency.

Rugby Football League (RFL) chief regulatory officer Karen Moorhouse said: “Staging games behind closed doors has been a huge logistical challenge for rugby league, as other sports.

“It has required a team effort involving all the clubs, the RFL and Super League Europe – and the venues have an especially important role in that.

“Emerald Headingley was chosen as the first host venue in our sport and all involved at Leeds, led by [operations director] Sue Ward, have been outstanding.

“We thank and congratulate them for that.”

Rhinos celebrate their behind closed doors win over Huddersfield Giants. Picture by James Hardisty.

The competition’s chief commercial officer Rhodri Jones added: “Betfred Super League would like to thank all the staff at Leeds Rhinos for helping to make the season restart run as smoothly as possible.

“As ever, they have been brilliant to work with.

“Super League is lucky to have a venue of the quality of Emerald Headingley.”

Ward and the stadium team were in charge of ensuring all three match days went off without a hitch.

“The stadium operations team have worked tirelessly over the last month to ensure every aspect of the return to play infection control measures were implemented and adhered to,” Ward said.

“We planned every single detail to create match day schedules to identify critical paths.”

Headingley staged three games last Sunday and Ward added: “There were a lot of moving parts that were happening at the same time that we had to be in control of throughout the day.

“As Wakefield were kicking off against Wigan, the team were in cleaning and sanitising the dressing rooms from the first game [Hull against Salford] in time for Leeds and Saints to arrive.

“Every single player, coach and official has to be checked into the bio secure ‘red zone’ which our staff completed and we also manage the amber zone which includes support staff, media, photographers and Sky Sports team.

“The turnaround times were extremely tight between games, as one game finished we had the next two clubs eager to get set up in the dugouts and warm up on the pitch, but before they could each area was completely cleared and misted with hard surface sanitiser – even the post pads!

“I’m so pleased that every single game kicked off on time and without issue. We could not have undertaken this alone; the support from Super League, the RFL and our security teams at G4S was second to none.

“It was a huge team effort with everyone mucking in, putting a pair of gloves and a mask on and getting the job done whether this be delivering ice or clearing out the dugouts between games.

“We all feel extremely privileged to have been part of the restart of the Betfred Super League competition; it has been challenging, but really rewarding.”

Ward was delighted with the way the club’s plan came together.

“Months of planning ensured both weekends went as smoothly as possible and I would like to thank the other clubs for their support and understanding on the day as well as we all adapt to the new normal,” she said.

“I am very proud of our operations team and what they have achieved.

“We have received some fantastic feedback from the teams and especially our head groundsman Ryan Golding for the outstanding surface we provided for all the action to unfold upon.

“For the majority of lockdown Ryan has been on his own with his team on furlough and he has worked tirelessly to create a pitch fit to kick start our sport again.”

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Laura Collins