Leeds youngster itching to return

Leeds Rhinos forward Muizz Mustapha is eager to repay the faith the club has shown in him once the season resumes.

The England Academy international was in pole position to push for a Super League debut in 2020, having made his Rhinos’ debut in the Challenge Cup against Workington last year.

The 2019 campaign also saw him earn first-team experience with Newcastle Thunder and Dewsbury Rams, after having featured for Featherstone Rovers in the 2018 Championship Shield final.

Further first-team exposure with Bradford Bulls was mooted for this season, as part of the deal that saw Rhys Evans join Leeds, while the return of reserve grade promised a big year for Mustapha.

He hasn’t let the lockdown lessen his mood, however, as the backrower is keen to showcase his abilities once the action returns.

“It was tough when the season was suspended,” he told League Express.

“I started the season quite narrow-sighted and just trying to play well in each game. It’s a big blow now because we don’t know what’s happening.

“There’s no way for me to prove that I’m improving every week. It’s out of my hands and there’s nothing I can do other than take it head on and try my best.”

The Nigerian-born player, who was named in the African country’s train-on squad last year, is hoping to follow a similar trend of the recent batch of Rhinos Academy graduates who have broken into the side.
Harry Newman, Cameron Smith and Mikolaj Oledzki have all become first-team regulars, after loan spells in the Championship, after having seen Jack Walker establish himself without needing any time away from the club.

Mustapha finds himself on the periphery of a starting-berth, along with fellow exciting youngsters such as Calum McLelland and Alex Sutcliffe, who are also waiting in the wings.

“Leeds are a long-term club, the sort you want to belong to at a time like this. We’re all very close-knit, the young guys, and we’re always there for each other,” added Mustapha. “As a young lad, you’re going to get disappointed, but we just push each other along.

“The club has a lot of belief in its young talent and I’m trying to push myself to show them they can trust me and that I won’t disappoint them.”

A large part of Mustapha’s ambition to impress the Rhinos comes from a desire to repay a huge amount of faith they paid in him as an Academy player.

Having been picked up from Hunslet Warriors initially, he had to overcome various injuries and suspensions in his first stages at the club, but he hopes the chance will come to finally repay Leeds’ belief.

“I broke my elbow in the first year of Academy and I only played one game, towards the end of the season,” he said.

“I took it rough and I was thinking that they’d not seen much of me.

“I went away after that and said that next year I need to come back stronger. I played every game until I broke my thumb towards the end of the year.

“Them I had a suspension in my first year of the Academy, unfortunately, and I missed five games the following season.

“I played another couple of games and I got banned again. Coming back every time I found quite hard. I took it to heart and I found it very tough.

“I thought I’d ruined my chances and I was very upset. But Leeds have shown a lot of faith in me and they’ve given me a lot of opportunities, and I can’t put that into words.”