Rugby league gets royal approval
A Malaysian prince is now among the followers of rugby league as a direct result of Leeds Rhinos’ ground-breaking visit to Eton College.
The major players at the newly-crowned Heinz Big Soup World Club champions are moving in big circles these days.
A week after Jamie Peacock went to Buckingham Palace to receive his MBE from the Queen, captain Kevin Sinfield and two of his team-mates went to Eton to beat the drum for rugby league.
Sinfield, who recently delivered a motivational speech to England’s rugby union team, addressed Eton’s Sports Society last night, following in the footsteps of Sir Steve Redgrave, Sven-Goran Eriksson, Sir Bobby Robson, Sir Clive Woodward and Geoffrey Boycott.
Today he addressed the pupils at the famous public school before taking a coaching clinic with Rhinos team-mates Zak Hardaker and Kallum Watkins on the playing fields.
The idea for the visit came from one of the pupils, Elliott Charles, who is from Leeds and a keen Rhinos fan, and the Stobart Super League champions were only too happy to oblige.
Leeds chief executive Gary Hetherington, who accompanied the three players on the two-day trip to Windsor, said: “This was a tremendous honour for Kevin and the Leeds Rhinos and it went down really well.
“They have 1,300 young people and they were keen to learn more about helping them to develop their potential.
“They appreciated the synergy and were fascinated to learn the secret behind helping youngsters reach their potential.”
Eton has long been at the heart of the English establishment since its formation by Henry VI in 1440, with a host of old Etonians holding the highest offices in the country since then, including Prime Minister David Cameron, and the Leeds contingent got a glimpse into some of its idiosyncrasies.
“They stamped their feet during our meetings, which is one of their rituals and a sign of appreciation,” said Hetherington. “They don’t clap.”
Sinfield, who won widespread praise for his talk to the England squad, said he was less nervous about last night’s occasion.
“I quite enjoyed it,” he said. “I was happy with the reception I got. I gave them an insight into our sport and the requirements of rugby league players and our responsibilities.
“I like to think it went down well. They sort of embraced what I was saying, which was quite gratifying.”
Having introduced the Eton pupils to rugby league, Leeds are now clearly hoping to reap benefits down the line and Hetherington is keen to build on the unlikely relationship.
“It’s not a one-off visit,” he said. “Now we’ve established a partnership, we’ll be looking to strengthen the link and get them more involved in rugby league.
“There’s an invitation for the staff and boys to come to Headingley and the Prince of Malaysia, who came up to introduce himself to us, and Billy Lloyd Webber, son of the famous producer Andrew, are already followers of Zak Hardaker on Twitter.”