Luke Hooley ready for Leeds Rhinos start after transformation to reach Super League

LUKE HOOLEY hopes his rough introduction to life at Leeds Rhinos will stand him in good stead when the real stuff begins.

The 24-year-old has signed for Leeds from Batley Bulldogs on a two-year deal from next season, but has already worn the blue and amber following a call-up for their post-season game against World Cup-bound New Zealand last month.

Fullback Hooley played more than half the game against the Kiwis, just six days after his final appearance for Batley in the Championship Grand Final, and thoroughly enjoyed the unexpected occasion, despite a 74-0 defeat.

“We (Batley) played on the Sunday and then I got a call on the Wednesday to come in,” Hooley told League Express.

“I got a message asking how I’d feel playing a few minutes against New Zealand. I said ‘yeah I’d love to!’

“The occasion was unreal. The players you’re playing against, it’s once-in-a-lifetime unless you get an England call-up.

“I’m looking forward to just getting into it now and enjoying it. I can’t wait to get involved. 

“Now I know the lads, I’ve kept in touch, I won’t feel like the new lad as much as usual. I’m glad I did it that way.”

Signing for Leeds completed three remarkable years for Hooley, who was released by Wakefield Trinity at the end of 2019 without making a single first-team appearance.

He was signed by Craig Lingard’s Batley and has been one of the stars of the Championship over the past two seasons to earn his way back to the top tier.

“That was always my aim, but I certainly didn’t expect it to arrive,” said Hooley.

“When I started at Batley, I said my goal was to get to Super League. I wanted to get up there and give it another shot, so it was always a goal.

“I’d have liked to have a shot at it (with Wakefield), to see where I was at. To not get a shot was upsetting. It made me want to get back up there and have a go at it. 

“But I was probably too light and not mature enough. I was a bit quiet. Now I’ve matured and at Batley I’ve taken more of a leading role.

“When I arrived at Batley, I think I was about 70kg, I was still a little boy at the time. Now I’m around 92kg. 

“I’ve grown that way and the rugby has paid off with it. A couple of years ago I would have been too light for Super League.”

And Hooley couldn’t be more thankful to the Bulldogs, and especially coach Lingard and right-hand man Mark Moxon, for helping him develop into a top-flight player.

He said: “They’re both always there for you. It’s such a well-run family club, if you need anything you know you’ll get it there. 

“They’ve brought the best out of me, they’ve brought me out my shell. They should take a lot of credit for what they’ve done for me.”

Last week the Rhinos announced that their former New South Wales State of Origin forward Matt Prior had retired at the age of 35 with immediate effect.

Prior played over 250 games in the NRL and played for New South Wales in 2018. A NRL Grand Final winner in 2016 with the Sharks, he won the Challenge Cup with the Rhinos in 2020.

“It’s a decision I haven’t taken lightly but to finish with the Rhinos in a Grand Final seems like a fitting way to bring my career to a close,” said Prior.

“I’ve been fortunate to play for so long in the NRL and Super League without too many injuries and I can look back with so many good memories.