Gary Hetherington reveals financial strife as he took over Leeds Rhinos

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It’s been 25 years since Gary Hetherington and Paul Caddick took over at Leeds Rhinos, and what a journey it has been.

From mid-table dwellers to the most successful Super League team in history, the rise has been meteoric and unrivalled in rugby league.

To celebrate the quarter-of-a-century mark, Hetherington released a passionate statement detailing his journey so far and just how financially bad the clubs was when he took over.

“An anniversary is always a good time to look back and reflect on things and 25 years at Headingley has certainly provided me with some wonderful memories and experiences.

“Me and my wife Kath learned a lot about business survival and life in general during our time at Sheffield Eagles and this helped me when Paul Caddick and I came together in 1996 to take over Leeds CF&A, Headingley and Leeds RL.

“It was a big and daunting challenge, but an exciting one too. I knew the people of Leeds were passionate about Rugby League and the club had such rich history and heritage, but as we all know that doesn’t pay the bills and wages and the club were in a desperate financial state at the time.

“The game had recently launched the Super League and moved to the summer season and this in itself presented opportunities, but it’s fair to say we at Leeds were well behind the revitalised Bradford Bulls, St Helens and other leading clubs and we had plenty of catching up to do.

“Our four key objectives from the outset were to firstly try and provide the city with a team to be proud of, secondly to turn a loss making business into a sustainable one, to find a way to restore Headingley to a modern international rugby and cricket venue and finally to engage with community initiatives and make a difference.

“It’s been a terrific journey so far and Paul and I have so many good memories to look back on.

“In the past 25 years the Rhinos have played 829 matches, including 28 major finals and 182 players have debuted. There has been many wonderful events and my favourites are:

“The 1999 Challenge Cup Final at the old Wembley and the ties against Wigan, St Helens, Widnes and Bradford.
– The 2004 Grand Final victory, which ended a 32 year wait for the Championship
– Our first World Club Challenge victory in 2005 over Canterbury Bulldogs at a packed Elland Road
– The 2011 50th anniversary celebration of Leeds first Championship win in 1961. It was so good to bring some wonderful former players like Ken Thornett, Wilf Rosenberg, Lewis Jones, Barry Simms and Jack Fairbank back to Headingley.
– The 2012 World Club Challenge victory and our first at Headingley against a star studded Manly Sea Eagles
– We also enjoyed the Leeds Tykes victory over Bath in 2005 at Twickenham to win the Powergen Cup and our Heineken Cup experiences
– Winning the treble in 2015 and the memorable victories at the end of the season
– The 2017 Grand Final victory over Castleford to end the remarkable careers of Rob Burrow and Danny McGuire.
– In January 2020 when the whole Rhinos and RL family came together to support Rob Burrow on an incredibly emotional afternoon at a capacity redeveloped Emerald Headingley against Bradford Bulls

“As for our most significant projects:
– Forcing Yorkshire County Cricket to stay at Headingley was a masterstroke by Paul Caddick then working with them to own their own ground for the first time in over a century
– The rebrand of Leeds Rhinos in 1997
– Introducing Ronnie the Rhino and entering him as a candidate for North West Leeds in the 1997 General Election, a brilliant PR stunt that captured headlines around the world
– The reintroduction of our Boxing Day morning fixture
– Investing in our Academy and junior development to make those players the heart of our first team over the last quarter century
– Converting Kirkstall into our training base and high performance centre
– Creating Leeds Rhinos Foundation which has gone from strength to strength and whose influence now reaches far beyond the rugby field or classroom
– The redevelopment of the Headingley Stadium complex to create an iconic world class venue for future generations to enjoy
– Embracing new Leeds Rhinos teams like the Women’s Super League team, Netball, Wheelchair, Physical Disability and Learning Disability teams
– Launching the Headingley is Home heritage scheme as we celebrate our heritage here at Headingley including the unveiling of our first ever statue
– But the most satisfaction is from the culture and team work ethic that has built over the years from our staff and management, many of whom started their working lives with us and now have ten and in some cases 20 years’ service and are stronger than ever.

“I have been indebted to so many top class performers who are committed to the club and I value the relationship I have had with each of the Head Coaches who have served whilst I have been here.

“Leeds Rhinos and Emerald Headingley are very special institutions and bring great credit to the city for which I am very proud of.

“Professional sport presents so many challenges, not least in the last two years due to the pandemic, but Paul and I have had a good innings so far and we are still at the crease!”

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Harvey Hinchcliffe
Harvey Hinchcliffe
9 months ago

Thanks to both you and Paul lets hope both of you are still batting for many a year to come once again thank you both for saving our club