Why Matt Prior came so close to leaving Leeds Rhinos

Matt Prior has proven to be one of Leeds’ best signings of the last decade since joining from Cronulla in 2020.

Prior was outstanding as Leeds lifted the Challenge Cup that season taking in two of the five vital drives towards the sticks ahead of Luke Gale’s drop goal.

This went on to earn him the Rhinos’ Player of the Year. Midway through 2021 he reluctantly took on the role of captain and led by example on the field with more herculean performances in the front row for the Rhinos. He also elevated Leeds fans’ fears over whether he would retire at the end of the campaign when he signed a new two-year deal at the club after which Prior will indeed retire next year as he confirmed today.

It’s fair to say Prior has at times struggled to live up to the standards he set in those first two seasons with the club in 2022, but when it has mattered most we have seen the old Prior such as when he was a tackling machine against Wigan on Friday night to help Leeds book a place in the Grand Final against St Helens.

Prior now has the chance to join an exclusive club of players to win Grand Finals on both sides of the planet as well as winning both the Challenge Cup and Grand Final with the club, but it could have been very different had the prop chosen to leave which he very nearly did in his first season due to the pandemic.

“That first period being away from family and friends was hard but it was hard for everyone,” Prior said, “Ever since everything has cleared up we’ve been able to done a load of stuff over here.

“It was definitely tough going in and out of lockdowns, living in a small apartment and not being able to do much. I was getting sick of it and I just wanted to be with friends and family.

“At that time Australia hadn’t really gone into many lockdowns so I felt like I was missing out, I was pretty keen to go home so I was pretty close [to leaving], how close I don’t know.

“It started playing on my mind that I was missing out on life back home, but I’m glad I stayed.”

He now thinks this Grand Final appearance justifies his decision to stay: “This justifies it. Had I gone home and seen the boys in a Grand Final I’d have thought ‘maybe I should have stayed’ so the fact we’re here and hopefully we can win it and it’ll make it sweeter.”

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