Leon Hayes rise charted as Warrington Wolves starlet earns praise from Sam Burgess

Drew Darbyshire
Leon Hayes Warrington Wolves Alamy

Leon Hayes (left) in action for Warrington Wolves

Warrington Wolves young gun Leon Hayes has taken his opportunity at his hometown club with both hands – and it’s safe to say he hasn’t looked out of place.

Wire coach Sam Burgess has revealed he planned to give Hayes, who made his first team debut in 2022, around 10 games in 2024 to help nurture his progression into life as an established first team player. However, injuries to George Williams and Josh Drinkwater in the early rounds has seen Hayes already play seven games so far this term.

And homegrown talent Hayes has flourished in Burgess’ side, striking up an impressive combination with fellow spine players Matt Dufty and Danny Walker.

The 20-year-old half-back has expressed his impressive kicking game in Super League, and has had no issue in guiding his side around the park, showing maturity beyond his years.

“I’ve said a couple of times that I can’t speak of him more glowingly,” Burgess told Love Rugby League at Warrington‘s training ground earlier this week.

“I really enjoy his company, he’s a good lad which is the most important thing in this environment. He’s great to be around, he works hard and I like his why factor for being here and he cares about his role so he’s a good lad, he’s doing really well.

“This whole year is about Leon’s development. I planned to probably play him 10 games (this season) if possible just to expose him to different scenarios, not being under too much pressure, I didn’t want to put too much pressure on the kid. I wanted him to improve little areas of his game but because of the circumstances he’s nearly at 10 games already and he’s been under more pressure than I’d have liked him to be but not one part of it has bothered him. He’s doing really well.”

Warrington-born Hayes, who played his junior rugby for local community clubs Rylands Sharks and Bank Quay Bulls, is one of the smallest players in Super League at 5ft 4in so has a lot of traffic thrown his way in defence – but he doesn’t back down. He might be small in height but physicality-wise he’s ready: he’s proven his mettle in the early rounds.

And Burgess believes he will only get better with the more experience he gets in the first team.

“He’s in a really fortunate position,” Burgess tells Love Rugby League. “He’s got George (Williams) there and Danny Walker is an England nine, Matt Dufty is a pretty exciting full-back and you’ve got Josh Drinkwater who is an experienced half-back, Leon’s played with Stef Ratchford who is a 350-gamer, so the guys who he is hanging around with aren’t early in their careers, they are all pretty experienced guys.

“They’ve all played for England and Dufts has played in the NRL and carved up over there, so Leon is surrounded by guys who are competent, so it keeps his role pretty simple and he’s getting better every time he gets on the field.”

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Leon Hayes backed for ‘real breakthrough season’ at Warrington Wolves by team-mate

Leon Hayes Warrington Wolves Alamy
Leon Hayes in action for Warrington in 2024

Hayes is currently living out his dream, playing for the club he grew up supporting and watching on the terraces at the Halliwell Jones Stadium.

And he has been backed to continue his strong form for the rest of the campaign by his team-mate Jordy Crowther.

“Leon’s been good, I think he has really come into his own this year,” Crowther told Love Rugby League.

“It’s a tough position is half-back, you have to be a real leader on the field and for someone of his age to come in and deliver the performances he has, directing the team around the field, especially when we missed George a couple of times, I think he really came through and I feel like he is going to have a real breakthrough season this year.”

Hayes, who spent time on dual-registration with League 1 outfit North Wales Crusaders last season, will play in the biggest game of his career to date on Sunday afternoon when Warrington make the short trip to St Helens in the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup.

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