Rugby League: Powell's power converts the Leeds doubters

The Rhinos were criticised when they took a gamble by signing an ageing utility player, but he soon proved that he was still a force on the field.
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IF THE future of Daryl Powell becomes the subject of a family feud, it will be fought out in the unlikely arena of Auntie Dot's granny flat.

At 33, Powell was not meant to have a future, or even much of a present - just a lengthy past at the sort of clubs that do not impress Leeds supporters overmuch.

One of the differences Gary Hetherington noticed when he decamped from Sheffield Eagles to become chief executive at Leeds was the size of his mailbag. One of the main topics was Powell: "I got a stack of letters asking me what I thought I was doing, bringing in a 30-odd-year-old from Keighley. What good could he be to Leeds? Those letters have dried up now."

So important has been his form towards the end of this campaign, in fact, that a new crop of correspondence, urging Hetherington not to let his wife poach him for Gateshead, can be expected.

Gary and Kath Hetherington made a young Powell their first signing for Sheffield in 1984. "She had as much to do with signing him as me and she's just as big an admirer of Daryl," Gary says.

Small wonder then that when Kath set up a new branch of Hetherington RL Industries plc in Gateshead, Daryl Powell was immediately in the frame as their inaugural captain.

Shaun McRae, who coaches St Helens against Leeds tomorrow, but is destined for Gateshead next season, puts it in context: "I think any club in Super League would love to have him. He was the first name we thought of, but you don't want to force someone out of a place where he wants to be."

Hetherington says there have not been any rows over the breakfast table about it yet, but that he would take a dim view of an illegal approach to Powell, even if it came from his wife.

"She goes out of the room when she's making calls on Gateshead business," he says. "She goes into her Auntie Dot's flat. I can't even pick up the other phone and listen in, because the kids shop me if I do."

Powell admits that "something would probably have come of it with Gateshead, if I hadn't another year on my contract at Leeds and they didn't want me to stay. But I still feel I've something to offer here."

Even his critics would agree with that now. "I had taken a step down in standard to be player-coach at Keighley, so it was a tall order for me to come back and do anything to benefit Leeds," Powell says. "I can understand that people thought it was a waste of time, but I've always been a pretty determined person."

Powell's whole career, from the day the Hetheringtons spotted him playing for the Castleford amateur side, Redhill, has turned out quite well. His 33 Test caps - more than Billy Boston, Denis Betts, Neil Fox, Roger Millward and Alex Murphy, to name but a few - show how valuable he has been to Great Britain, even if the public have not always shared the national coaches' high opinion.

"Despite him being the sixth most-capped player of all time, I told him when I brought him to Leeds that these last two years could be his best two years, in terms of domestic honours," Hetherington says.

So far, so good. With Powell now a fixture in the side, Leeds are one step away from the Super League Grand Final: "It's been a successful season, but we'll gauge our success now by winning the championship," Powell says. "This is a very, very good side. There's a lot of quality all over the place and we've shown that there is a depth of ability there."

Injuries to key players tomorrow could force Leeds to test that depth, but Powell's defence and general know-how, either at stand-off or loose forward, will be crucial.

"He is one of their strengths," says McRae. "He's such a good defensive player and very rarely misses a tackle. You can't replace the sort of experience that Daryl has."

Leeds should not have to, at least in the immediate future. Although his eventual ambition is to go into coaching, as opposed to player-coaching, he is looking beyond next season and wondering whether he might have another year in him at Leeds after his current contract.

Unless Auntie Dot knows any different, other challenges will have to wait for the moment.