Calderwood committed to rousing farewell

Leeds' prolific try-scorer is leaving his home-town club to play for Wigan next season. He talks to Dave Hadfield about the long goodbye and his desire for victory in today's Challenge Cup final
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The Independent Online

One effect of moving the showpiece to later in the season is that it is unusually full of players who know they will not be with their present club next year.

Of the Rhinos' team playing at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff today, Barrie McDermott is retiring and going on to the coaching staff, Andrew Dunemann is going home to Australia and Chris McKenna and Marcus Bai are widely expected to join Bradford.

Nobody's departure is as messy, however, as that of Mark Calderwood.

When you are the most prolific try-scorer in Super League - he has 31 in all competitions this season - you tend to develop a strong idea of your value.

Unfortunately, when it came to negotiating a new contract at Leeds, the club's valuation did not coincide with his own. After six weeks of sitting on the first and final offer, he was told that he could go and he will be with Wigan next season.

"I'll be putting that out of my mind," he promises, carefully saying all the right things. "Whatever has happened at Leeds, I'll be doing my best and I'll be fully focused on Leeds until the end of the season. I would have liked to stay, but it wasn't to be."

Some Leeds supporters see the 23-year-old local lad as a sacrificial victim of the determination of the club's chief executive, Gary Hetherington, to run a tight ship. "We've got a core of a dozen lads here who have come through the ranks, who want to stay together and play together," says Hetherington. "But sometimes you have to let someone go who you would have preferred to keep.

"All our players could get more money elsewhere. We could have made Mark the best-paid player at the club, but he hasn't yet played for Great Britain - although I believe he's capable of doing so."

Calderwood's departure was complicated when the club went back to him after they learnt that Bai was leaving as well and told him that there might be an opportunity for him to stay after all - albeit on the same terms he had already been offered.

It was too late. He had already signed for Wigan and maintains a diplomatic "no comment" on the subject of whether he would have liked to put the process into reverse.

"I've got to make the best of it now," he says. "Obviously, I won't be here next season. There are other lads who won't be here and we want to make sure we go down in Leeds history. There's no better way of doing that than getting to a final and winning it.

"When you're a kid, all you want to do is play for your home-town club. When you remember the people who brought you here, you're bound to be sad to go."

Calderwood's departure will come at the end of a season which has seen him produce his best form, after often being out of favour with Leeds' newly arrived coach, Tony Smith, last year.

"I didn't have a good year," he says. "I realised I needed to improve and Tony sat me down and told me where I needed to improve - and I think I have improved.

"Last year, he left me out a couple of times and I thank him for that now. I was sat out on the wing not getting involved enough."

He does more of that now and he still has the distinction of being just about the best in the game at chasing - and scoring tries from - kicks.

"It's a good weapon to have in your armoury. But you can do it a lot more when you have the quality of kicker that we have at Leeds."

Today's game will bring him into direct opposition with a former Rhino whose strengths are subtly different. Gareth Raynor is one of those who took the M62 eastbound to Hull and his explosive running out of dummy half could test Calderwood's occasionally criticised defensive capabilities.

"Gaz was in the Under-21s when I was in the Academy. He's got some great feet. He's very elusive and he can offload the ball as well. The ex-Leeds players at Hull will all want to do well. They've all got a point to prove and they'll all be up for it."

Calderwood has points of his own to prove - that his commitment to his first club remains as strong as ever until the day he leaves. And maybe, just maybe, that they should have tried a little harder to keep him.

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