Analysis: A formative and fearless night for Leeds Rhinos’ Alfie Edgell

Aaron Bower
Alfie Edgell Leeds Rhinos Alamy

Alfie Edgell in action for Leeds Rhinos in 2023 (Alamy)

It was pre-season when I asked someone of significance at Leeds Rhinos how they would describe Alfie Edgell. There was one predominant word which emerged: fearless.

Perhaps the teenager simply didn’t have time to process the enormity of the occasion he was stepping into on Thursday evening. Sometimes, getting the call at the last moment that you’re being upgraded from 18th man to starting fullback can often work in your favour. But whatever the reason for such a nerveless and confident display, it would have given Rohan Smith and Leeds Rhinos supporters that they have another potential star on their hands.

And all this for a player who himself was carrying an injury himself.

“He was absolutely outstanding,” Smith said afterwards when asked to describe Edgell’s display. “We weren’t sure if he would be fit to play. For a young man to do that in front of that crowd on this surface, under pressure against a really hard-working tough, smart team.

“He gets the nod half an hour before kick-off that he was in but he had a knock. We didn’t even know if he would be fit enough to be 18th man so that’s the courage of him. It’s always hard to play February in Hull, on the heaviest track you could find for a young kid to defend like that, he showed he’s earned his stripes to be a Super League player.”

Edgell certainly showed plenty of courage and bravery on a chastening night for the youngster. Perhaps it was to be expected that when news filtered through Edgell was being drafted in for the ill Lachlan Miller, Rovers would test him accordingly.

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Hull KR certainly knew Leeds had a player making only a second competitive start – and that was at half-back last July – in at fullback. Time and time again inside the opening quarter, even from their very first offensive kick, they routinely tested Edgell under the high bomb.

Time and time again, he stood firm.

That fearlessness was also evident with ball in hand, too. On the night, only two Leeds players – Brodie Croft (20) and Cameron Smith (22) – made more carries than Edgell’s total of 17. In fact, even in the opposition only Tyrone May (21) and Elliot Minchella (20) had more, too. You would perhaps forgive him for not putting his hand up in attack too often given the nature of how he was thrown in at the last minute. Yet he responded with a maturity and confidence that will give Smith immense confidence moving forwards.

His positional play at fullback offered great confidence, with a wonderful try-saving tackle midway through the first half just as Rovers looked set to strike through Jai Whitbread. In reality, he had no right to stop a player of that size. But the real positive that stood out is just how well Edgell composed himself and handled matters under extreme pressure. It comes all the way back round to the same word once again: fearless.

Of course, this was not a night without its moments of trepidation for the youngster. He made one or two errors, including one on the brink of half-time that ultimately didn’t cost his side any points. But in those moments, it is perhaps easy to fade into the background; yet Edgell continued to stand up to everything that was being thrown his way.

The one real negative was perhaps how he was beaten to the ball by Peta Hiku for the try that ultimately settled proceedings in the final minutes. But that was a case of experience winning out over seniority, if you are going to give it real context. Edgell’s reaction afterwards, as he lay on the floor while Hiku sprung up to celebrate, underlined that. It was a moment he will undoubtedly learn from.

Miller was reportedly ill on the way to Craven Park, and it was only during the warm-up when he conceded he wasn’t well enough to feature. Next time a situation like that arises, you suspect Leeds will not roll the dice and gamble on their number one fullback again – because they have a ready-made replacement available to step in.

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