Leeds Rhinos star Ryan Bailey is one of the quiet men of Rugby League, and he is little understood by many supporters of the game.
Bailey, a one-club man who made his Leeds debut against Wakefield in June 2002, is adept at disrupting the opposition, with his tactics often causing consternation among opposition supporters.
But now he has been granted a testimonial season by the RFL, and the quiet man will inevitably have to come out of his shell to engage with the media and the public.
Last week the Rhinos held a Christmas dinner which also doubled as the launch of Bailey’s testimonial, and his team-mate Jamie Jones-Buchanan gave a speech with a comment that caused knowing laughter among the audience.
“I knew Ryan Bailey when we were growing up, and if someone had said then he would do twelve years I would have agreed with them. I just didn’t think it would be playing rugby,” said JJB.
Bailey himself laughed along with everyone else. Like all the Leeds players, he gets plenty of ribbing from JJB. But Jones-Buchanan went on to pay a generous tribute to his team-mate.
“JJB is from Bramley like me, and he understands where we’ve come from and how we’ve got here,” Bailey told League Express.
“I appreciate what he said, because in normal conversation people don’t really tell you what they think of you.”
When he made his debut for Leeds, on 28 June 2002 at Belle Vue, Bailey came on for the last five minutes, replacing Adrian Vowles, and in time to help Leeds snatch a 36-32 late victory.
“I got about five minutes against Wakefield, and I tried to do everything at once. I made about ten tackles and three hit-ups in those five minutes,” remembers Bailey, who has been a member of the Leeds first team virtually ever since, racking up 255 Super League appearances and more than 300 in total.
“After I made my debut I played in more or less every game since then. I don’t think I got dropped that year, and ever since then I’ve been part of the team.
“I’ve just turned 30 now, so I must be getting old. But my time at Leeds has been great so far. I’ve been here since I was at school, and I’ve really had a journey here. I’ve won a lot of trophies and they have really looked after me.
Not long ago there was some talk about Bailey going to the NRL’s Brisbane Broncos, but it was soon put to one side, when he signed a new two-year contract in July.
“Leeds have stood by me and, although I’ve had a rollercoaster ride, I have been loyal to this club. It’s my home town, and I couldn’t ask for anything more. It’s a great club and I think I will probably be here until the end of my career, especially with the way it is now,” said Bailey.
“Brian McDermott is one of the best coaches I’ve had. He gets the best out of his players, but if you’ve having a bad game he’ll tell you. He makes you work hard and pushes you to your limits.
“I like to get under the skin of opposing players, and their fans don’t like that. But they judge me by what I’m like on the field, not off it. Maybe I should bring a book out when I finish playing, to reveal what I’m really like. Then perhaps people wouldn’t just the book by its cover.
“If they saw how I’d got here, and what I’ve been through, maybe they would have different views after that.”
And is Bailey looking forward to the public speaking that inevitably comes with a testimonial?
“I get more nervous talking than I do playing the game, that’s true. Most people assume that professional sportsmen will all be good at talking, but not everyone is. I’m pretty quiet, but I try my best and I hope I will improve. I do need to practise.”