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Long Read Interview: Rhyse Martin

Rhyse Martin was one of the first signings Richard Agar made as Leeds coach as he and Kevin Sinfield undertook a mid-season overhaul in 2019 which steered the Rhinos away from relegation.

Martin was then key to Leeds’ gradual progression which saw them lift the Challenge Cup in 2020 as well as make the Super League semi-finals in 2021.

However, despite brilliant form from the backrower at the start of 2022, Leeds’ progress under Agar stalled this year and saw him resign with Rohan Smith since taking over.

Despite losing his first game to Salford, Smith has masterminded back-to-back wins in the games since including a thumping win over Warrington last time out.

Speaking exclusively to Serious About Rugby League, Rhyse Martin – who has continued his good form under Smith – explained what clicked for Leeds in the win at Warrington which finally saw Leeds unearth their untapped attacking potential.

“I think it was a team performance,” Martin said, “Everyone did their jobs really well. We’ve played a few games this year where we’ve been in the contest but then we’ve fallen away.

“I think we’ve got a team capable of getting wins like that but we’ve just not been able to string it together.”

He also explained that Smith’s focus is simply week by week and since the win, they’ve only thought about their next game which is an interesting encounter with Huddersfield: “We take it week by week. Rohan is only focused on the week ahead which is how it should be. We’re not phased by the rest of the season but building off that performance and doing it again on Friday against Huddersfield.”

Martin then went on to praise the changes that Smith has made and the way he goes about things on the training field.

“As a whole he’s a very relaxed character and very switched on,” Martin said of his new coach, “His process and the way he views the game and the feedback you get from him is always to improve and don’t stop trying to be yourself but not at the cost of your team.

“He’s big on not holding back and being the best team player you can be. Personally for me making sure I’m not afraid to play or take opportunities that I see and just enjoy the challenge and opportunity.

“I think it was something that we needed.”

Smith named Martin at centre against Warrington in a move that again paid off as Leeds scored twice down the right whilst Martin and winger David Fusitu’a also played a key role in creating the position for James Donaldson’s score before halftime.

It’s a role Martin has played a lot this year having exclusively played right second-row in his first two and a half seasons at Leeds. In 2022, he’s played left second-row and centre as well as right centre as he did against the Wolves.

“I’ve been loving playing centre,” he said, “It’s been quite refreshing. It’s been a new challenge for me. When I was in high school I played centre but not played it since really.

“It helps taking carries after David Fusitu’a. I’ve really enjoyed it, for me I just try to do my best for the team. It doesn’t matter what side of the field or where I’m playing. We’ve had a few injuries in key positions and suspensions. The forwards are in rotation I think they’re just figuring out whose week off it is next week.”

Clearly enjoying his rugby and the changes Smith has made, it remains to be seen whether this will be enough to get Martin to stay at Headingley.

In the last year of his deal, Martin said family has to come first: “As a new father, it is a mindset of doing what’s best for the family at this time,” Martin said, “That’s the biggest thing for me at the moment is deciding what I need to do for my family.

“But secondly I’ve loved my time at Leeds, it’s been such an enjoyable time. I think whatever happens, we’ll know soon. At this point in time we’re happy and comfortable but need to do what’s best for the family in the long run.”

So, it seems we’ll know very soon whether or not Martin will be staying at Headingley beyond 2022, with the fans desperate to see the Papua New Guinea international stay.

Since his arrival at Headingley, Martin has become a huge fan’s favourite due to his dangerous running in attack and tireless efforts in defence – not to mention his expert goal-kicking which has helped Leeds over the line in a number of games.

Retaining his services would be a massive lift for the Rhinos as they head into the second half of the season and Martin believes he is playing well and that play-off rugby is not out of the question.

“I am playing well at the moment,” he said, “I’m happy, footy’s been good and we’re starting to win some games.

“For me I worked hard over pre-season. Last season I had an up and down kind of year with a few changes in my life but this year has been really good for myself and I want to build off that and hopefully we can get into the playoffs.”

The Rhinos are three points behind Hull KR in sixth but have won four of the last five and seem to be on an upward trajectory under Rohan Smith, playing a much more entertaining brand of rugby in the process with the boss wasting little time in implementing his methods on a star-studded squad that was vastly underperforming in the early part of the season.

So, could we see Martin and the Rhinos playing play-off rugby again in 2022? It seems time will reveal Martin’s future plans in due course but there is absolutely no question that the fans at Headingley want to see him stay, with his retention also important for Super League as a whole with the PNG star considered one of the competition’s most exciting players.

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