Tom Holroyd has come a long way in a year.
The Leeds Rhinos prop didn’t play a minute of Super League in 2022 as two nasty injuries sandwiched a massive ban he picked up for fighting as he played for the Bradford Bulls on dual registration.
But yesterday after a terrific start to the season, he made his England debut in the dominant win over France at the Halliwell Jones Stadium in Warrington.
“Looking back, 12 months ago I didn’t think I would be making my England debut. I am really honoured to be here and I am taking everything as it comes and not taking anything for granted.”
He went on to open up on the difficult year he had in 2022 that not only derailed his season, but also threatened to throw off a promising career at a crucial stage in the forward’s development.
“It was really difficult. It was just one thing after another. Some things were because of me and some things were not.
“But to bounce back and stick at it and keep working hard, it got pretty tough and it was a pretty tough time but to be here and representing my country and my family, that is how quickly things can change.”
Speaking on the harsh ban he received last year he revealed that he was shocked and a bit surprised by the length of it.
“It was a bit of a hard one and I was a bit shocked by how long it was but I did it and there was nothing I could do about that,” Holroyd added.
He continued: “It is the only one that I have ever had and that’s what hurt really. I was just not in a good place. That’s not me and the way I have bounced back, I think that says more about me than what actually happened.”
However, the backing of Leeds boss Rohan Smith has allowed him to come out of it stronger in 2023 by becoming a regular fixture in the Australian head coach’s plans at Headingley.
Though the Rhinos have had an inconsistent start to the season, Holroyd’s performances have been the opposite with the no-nonsense prop one of the shining lights in the team.
“Rohan has been really good with me even throughout the ban and injuries, said Holroyd. “He has supported me through it and kind of given me a different mindset.
“Sometimes it just happens. He has really supported me and given a lot of faith in me and I can’t thank him enough for that.”
Though Holroyd was not part of the squad, Leeds finished last season in fine form by reaching the Grand Final after sneaking into the Super League playoff places on the final day of the regular season with a win over local rivals Castleford.
With much expected of the Rhinos this season, it would be fair to say the start has left fans a little underwhelmed with impressive wins over champions St Helens, Catalans and Huddersfield, cancelled out by poor defeats at Castleford, Leigh and Hull KR.
Speaking on the team front about the 2023 season to date, Holroyd was under no illusions that the team must improve if they want to seriously challenge for silverware this campaign.
“It has been an up and down start but we know how good we can be, we have proved that in parts, and we’re still confident that we can improve, be more consistent and challenge for trophies, that’s the aim.
“We have to look at our performances at Saints and at home to Catalans and try replicate that every week, but Super League is a tough competition and that can be difficult.
“Every team comes with a different plan, some teams turn up and surprise you and some times for whatever reason you can just not be at it – but we’ve had too many off days so far this season.
“The game we had at Hull KR was a good example. Looking at that game I always felt like we had enough to win, but we just could not get going and lift our energy or build enough pressure.
“It was the same at Leigh and Castleford. We have to be aware that every team in this league will give us a hard game and we have to do a better job at giving our all and showing more consistency.”
Holroyd of course grew up watching some of the best Leeds teams in the club’s history, as the likes of Kevin Sinfield, Danny McGuire, Rob Burrow and Jamie Peacock helped the Rhinos win eight Super League titles.
That golden period between 2004 and 2017 saw the club win 16 major trophies, but since the retirement of those iconic names it has been a tough transition at Headingley.
Leeds only have a Challenge Cup triumph in 2020 to show in the last five years and despite making it to the Grand Final last season, 2023 doesn’t look likely to add anymore silverware to the club’s trophy cabinet.
Holroyd recognises the weight of following those great Leeds teams and admits the pressure of playing for the club has perhaps proved too heavy for some players and squads at the Rhinos over recent seasons.
“Leeds is one of the biggest clubs in the world of rugby league and bar is very high,” said Holroyd. “When I was watching Leeds as a kid they would win everything and keeping up to that expectation is not easy because it brings a certain type of pressure.
“That pressure has proved too much I think since those legends left and it’s an alomost impossible task to follow in some ways but there is no reason why we can’t build another dynasty like those that have gone before.
“Coming through here there are some great players, some great young players who I think will play for the club for the next 10 years. It’s all about find that next group who can build a legacy like those great teams and like Saints have done recently.
“There is only so long a club like this can be down in the middle of the table though and it has to change at some point, and despite the start to this season I think we can get up there this season.
“All great teams are consistent, especially come the business end of the season, which we showed signs of at the end of 2022, so we have to find that again – I know this group will be successful sooner rather than later.”