Andy Ackers ready for ’emotional’ Leeds Rhinos debut against club he left in the winter

Ross Heppenstall
Andy Ackers

Andy Ackers in action for Leeds Rhinos on Boxing Day - Alamy

Andy Ackers thrived at Salford Red Devils, enjoying the best season of his career in 2022 and earning inclusion in England’s World Cup squad that year.

He is widely regarded as one of the best hookers in Super League and remains close to Paul Rowley, himself a distinguished ex-number nine, who oversaw Ackers’ success at SalfordBut that chapter in the 29-year-old’s life has now closed.

Ackers has joined Leeds Rhinos, the eight-time Super League champions, after they paid the Red Devils a six-figure sum for him and team-mate Brodie Croft during the winter.

Life at cash-strapped Salford was all about punching above your weight and defying expectations, while bloodying the noses of a few bigger clubs along the way.

At Headingley though, there is pressure on Ackers not only to perform in the famous blue and amber jersey, but to return arguably the biggest club in the game to their former glories.

Last year’s eighth-placed finish was simply not acceptable for a club of the Rhinos’ history, stature and fanbase. Leeds certainly bought Ackers and Croft with silverware in mind, with the arrival of Mickael Goudemand, Lachie Miller, Matt Frawley, Paul Momirovski and Kieran Hudson encouraging hopes of a major revival in 2024.

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Headingley supremo Gary Hetherington called the acquisition of Ackers and Croft “our biggest investment in one go since we signed Iestyn Harris in 1997.”

Ackers is speaking to Love Rugby League deep within the bowels of Headingley, where images of the club’s most iconic players and title successes proudly adorn the walls. History is everywhere at Leeds and Ackers acknowledged: “You wouldn’t be a rugby league fan if you didn’t know about all those great Leeds Rhinos sides.

“That Golden Generation team who won all those Grand Finals were at the very top of the game.. the likes of Jamie Peacock, Kevin Sinfield, Rob Burrow and Danny McGuire.

“But we’ve got a good squad of players here now and a very strong, new spine. Add that to all the young kids coming through and the lads who were already here, then if I can add my part as well then obviously it will be great for me.

“Hopefully we can bring some silverware back to this club again.”

Andy Ackers, Leeds Rhinos badge
Andy Ackers in action for Salford Red Devils in 2023 – Alamy

‘We bounce off each other’ – Andy Ackers on Brodie Croft

Ackers, playing in the game’s most pivotal position at hooker, has grown accustomed to collecting possession at acting half-back and giving the ball to Croft to work his magic.

The pair dovetailed beautifully together at Salford, most memorably in 2022 when Croft won the coveted Steve Prescott Super League Man of Steel award.

The Red Devils made the play-off semi-finals that year and now Ackers and Croft will spearhead the attack for Rohan Smith’s side.

“Brodie and I have played alongside one other for a couple of years now, so we know how each of us work,” said Ackers.

We bounce off each other and spend a lot of time together talking about rugby league.

“We’re good friends off the pitch too, so it’s always good to have that camaraderie and that relationship with your team-mate, especially with someone you play with in the spine.

“I’m looking forward to lacing up my boots with Brodie again in a Leeds Rhinos jersey.”

‘I’ve learned loads from Rohan Smith already’, says new Leeds Rhinos recruit Andy Ackers

Remembering that 2022 campaign when he established himself as one of the most potent nines in the game, Ackers said: “Yes, that was probably the best season of my career.

“Obviously I got selected to play for England at the World Cup later that year so it was probably the most success I’ve had in a season. Salford got to the play-off semi-finals and Paul Rowley was massive for me – he brought me on leaps and bounds and made me the player I am today.

“I’ll be forever grateful for that but I’m looking to go one step further now by getting to a Grand Final and winning it. I’ve learned loads from Rohan (Smith, Rhinos head coach) already. He’s a great bloke, a great coach and a great character.

“Coming here and being like a sponge under a coach like Rohan is only going to be good for my career.”

Ackers has ambitions beyond Leeds this season, with one eye on England at the end of the year and a possible test series against Samoa.

He admitted: “That’s one of my goals. The England set-up is a great organisation to be a part of and representing your country is the pinnacle of your career.

“To do it at a World Cup was very special, and I’d like to get back in there this year. If I have a good enough year, then who knows? Maybe I’ll get in, maybe I won’t, but there will be no hard feelings if not.

“But it’s certainly one of my goals and I’ll doing my very best to achieve that.”

Ackers and Croft both signed three-year contracts at Leeds and there is a certain romance to their first game in a Rhinos jersey being against Salford at Headingley on Friday.

Ackers added: “Of course it’ll be an emotional one, but this is professional rugby league and we want to start the season with a win, especially in front of our own fans at Headingley. I can’t wait.”