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End of an era as Senior exits Leeds

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George Riley George Riley | 15:58 UK time, Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Hailed by chief executive Gary Hetherington as his greatest ever signing, Keith Senior is gutted to be leaving Leeds.

The Super League stalwart, who has played more matches and scored more tries in the elite league than anyone else, left Hetherington's office this week adamant that he remains the club's top centre.

The 35-year-old has been a Rhinos cult hero since his arrival in 1999, and the removal of this piece of Headingley furniture leaves a gaping hole for the club to fill.

I find it hard to argue with Hetherington's big call on Senior's place in Loiners' legend, although the impact made by Kevin Sinfield provides a strong point of debate over just who has been the greatest ever acquisition.

I called Keith for a quick chat on the morning his departure was made public. Half an hour later he was still on the other end of the phone talking passionately about how he will recover from his knee ligament injury to prove Leeds wrong for letting him go.

There is no bitterness. Senior is loved at Leeds and he respects how good the club has been to him, but he does not accept that he has no more to offer.

"It's a weird feeling getting sacked from your job and not having work to go to the next day, " he told me, although the ultimate contract termination was by mutual consent.
"It was all amicable. Gary shook my hand as I left the office for the last time and told me his door was always open if I wanted to come back for a job here.

"The hard thing to accept is that I was still the number one centre at Leeds this year. It is disappointing as I remain the best centre they have got but they still couldn't retain me. People say I have lost pace but I haven't lost that much.

"I appreciate Leeds are looking to the future and I am not the future. I am not the next big thing at left centre which is what they are looking for so there is no way they could retain me. I told them I didn't want to be a squad player as I still have goals and aspirations in this game."

Keith Senior

Senior played at Headingley for 12 years after signing from Sheffield Eagles

There was talk Senior may be kept on and used as a second rower next year. "Why would I move into the pack and do more work?" he laughed. "If they don't think I'm good enough at centre then why would I be at forward?"

Senior believes he is good enough for two more years at the top and he is set to be granted his wish with one final contract. I understand he will form a veteran centre partnership with Gareth Thomas at Crusaders next year where coach Iestyn Harris wants experience and leadership to give the club creditability.

I expect Senior to sign a two-year contract with the Welsh club having had offers from other Super League sides including Widnes, and, surprisingly, invitations to try his hand at rugby union in France.

Veteran players often have coaching opportunities written into their final playing contracts too, but Senior will not.

"I don't want to coach now. I couldn't be a first-team coach. I've had enough rubbish over my playing career to not want to put up with that in coaching," he said.

"It's a ruthless industry, very cut throat. Guys who do that need a certain attitude and temperament and I don't think I have that."

After a record-breaking 199 Super League tries in 413 games, there is no way he would drop down a division either. He would rather retire.

"After playing at the top level for so long I would find it degrading to lower myself to play in those leagues. It is not what I've spent my whole career working so hard for," is his frank assessment.

Senior's Leeds legacy lists four Grand Final triumphs including an historic hat-trick between 2007 and 2009. He won the Challenge Cup with Sheffield in 1998, though never with Leeds, and has been named in the Super League Dream Team five times, including last season at the age of 34.

There is one big regret, and you can still feel the disappointment as he talks about it six years on.

Eight days before the 2005 Challenge Cup final, Leeds' main attacking weapon was on a stretcher clutching his ankle. I saw him the day before the final in Cardiff and he was still hobbling.

John Kear, the coach of opponents Hull, said if Senior was fit to play left centre then Kear himself would kit up and line up at right. Incredibly, Senior was named in the team after having an injection in his ankle. He was a passenger in the first half and didn't emerge for the second, as the Rhinos lost a thrilling final by a point.

"That is my one regret," says Senior, who was accused by some in the wake of the defeat of letting his team down by claiming he was fit. "I have never been in that position before having never had a serious injury and to be honest I had no idea how to deal with it," he tells me.

"I could still walk and do a little bit of running and felt there was a slight chance I could play. I felt pressure from the coach (Tony Smith) to play in the game. Looking back that is my biggest regret and I felt I let the boys down."

Six years on Senior is now sat on his sofa with his second serious injury, and one that has led to the end of his Leeds career.

He is bored and frustrated about his broken body, and has put an obviously active mind to good use by penning his autobiography.

He had already had six physio sessions on the day I spoke to him, and was doing extra exercises on the sofa as we chatted.

Senior winced in pain twice during the interview and tells me he is trying to build himself back up after losing eight kilos of muscle since suffering the injury. He is now ditching the crutches to strengthen the leg muscles again, but is still some way off even resuming his surprise hobby of show jumping.

You would not expect to see a rugby league man mountain on the back of a horse jumping over fences but Senior loves riding his own stallion, Tommy.

"I can't even ride it at the moment so my partner is out having lessons so she can keep him fit. I won't be able to go jumping on him for a good few months," he said.

With their stalwart gone, Leeds must find another thoroughbred in their stable. Existing options are Kallum Watkins, Ben Jones-Bishop and Lee Smith but I know none of them want to play in that position. I understand Leeds have spent the last few months scouting and may well announce a big name signing in the next few weeks.

As for Senior, he will be back at Headingley in different colours next year and you can be sure the South Stand will continue to chant his name.

The legs may be going, the powerful line-breaks perhaps decreasing in frequency, but on his day there have been few more fearsome centres in Super League history.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Hope he comes back strong as ever, would've loved to have seen him at Saints in his prime... good luck Keith.

  • Comment number 2.

    He's been a rock for Leeds - they will miss him

  • Comment number 3.

    "The hard think to accept is that I was still the number one centre at Leeds this year."

    If it's tough to contemplate even thinking about then it's not all that surprising that Leeds have let him go.

  • Comment number 4.


    Good player and certainly loyal - 12 years is a long time, but right call by Leeds

    and i never had KS in the "prince of centres" bracket- all effort and industry yes but imho theres been far classier centres in the last 15 years,

    Jamie Lyon, whose skill put the fear of god into people, Paul Newlove an outstanding footballer in the classic centre style , Steve Renouf- a joy to watch, Shontane Hape- as proven very adaptable and a great finisher and one bang up to date - Matt King cracking winger but just as good on the inside-

  • Comment number 5.

    He would be an excellent signing for the Crusaders, good luck to him.

  • Comment number 6.

    as hard as nails and a wonderful line breaking centre. always gave his best for england and britain. will be sorely missed but he couldn't go on forever. great memories of him lining up for sheffield as well. seems to have been around forever. best of luck with crusaders, keith.

    bobby

  • Comment number 7.

    An excellent centre for Leeds & GB. Shame he never gave NRL a go...

  • Comment number 8.

    I remember watching Keith Senior play against the Aussies in 2003 in the game Adrian Morley was sent off in after 12 seconds and he was absolutely awesome against the best team in the world. Even the Aussie press praised his performance which for a GB back is almost unheard of since the days of Ellery Hanley. Got to agree with SouthsNZ that I just wish he had tried the NRL out to face the likes of Gasnier, Cooper etc week in week out. Still think he can bring something to the party though so be interesting what he brings to the Crusaders if he moves there.

  • Comment number 9.

    Thanks for your service to our club Keith.

    Time catches up with everyone, and he, along with JP cannot fight it forever. Leeds will need to rebuild over the next few years.

    Hope he enjoys his time at Crusaders and that he doesn't fade away from the game in a shower of sporadic appearances punctuated by the niggling injuries which seem to plague most sportsmen once they get into their 30's.

  • Comment number 10.

    Top pro.

    Again, I would have loved to see him at Saints, alongside Newlove in his prime. Mouthwatering that would have been.

  • Comment number 11.

    He has been a true strike player for Leeds. Unstoppable in space from close range and created so many tries for others when his power sucked defenders in and his offload released others. Scott Donald's try scoring record in 2007 to 2009 was testament to how much Senior does! Leeds loss is Crusaders gain!

    Would like to see Yeaman as a replacement at Leeds.

  • Comment number 12.

    I am more of a soccer fan but enjoy watching Rugby League on the telly. What a legend Keith Senior is. You can pick him out by his looks but more importantly by the effort he puts in. In soccer terms in his prime he would be worth a fortune. Good luck for the future Keith and definitely think you ought to reconsider coaching when you finally retire.

  • Comment number 13.

    Top bloke, top player, always left everything on the pitch. I hope than when he goes out of the game, he is able to go out at a level that he wants to.

  • Comment number 14.

    I have to agree with some other posters that he was a good player, but definitely not one of the greats. He lacked the ability to pass in both directions and a decent kick to be rank amongst the top centres in the game. Can't fault his effort or desire which is part of what turned his defence from average at Sheffield to exceptional at Leeds.

    I do, however, find it rather remarkable that people seem to speak so highly of his character. After all, Keef sold off his medal to make an extra quid and this mentality is no doubt driving his ambition to play as long as possible.

    Without doubt though, the most shocking thing about this article is that Leeds allowed one of their top earners to ride horses in his down time. I thought footballers of all codes were on a strict 'no risks' regime during their relaxation time. Can you imagine Rooney, Wilkinson or Ablett Jnr being allowed to fill their time jumping around on the back of Mr Ed?!!

  • Comment number 15.

    Pommie_Greg

    give it a rest mate there's a good lad. let's keep it positive. if you aint got something something good to say, don't make me have to spell it out for you.

  • Comment number 16.

    Great player, met him on a night out in Leeds and he was an absolute nightmare. Tried it on with a couple of my mates wives even though he was knew they were married (because their husbands were there at the time) and gave it the big "I am". Kind of spoilt my memories of him. Thanks Keith.

 

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