What was almost immediately clear to Get ’em Onside from meeting Kruise Leeming recently was how driven he is to succeed in rugby league and how focused he is on achieving his goals, two attributes which will have no doubt benefited both himself and his team, Huddersfield Giants, throughout a challenging 2018.
Having initially struggled in the early part of the season, the dismissal of Rick Stone and the appointment of Simon Woolford – via Chris Thorman – sparked a turnaround which now sees the Giants with a distinct chance of reaching Super League’s play off semi-finals through finishing in the top four, something which seemed hugely unlikely not three months ago.
From being a team in crisis, 22-year-old Leeming beamed that this is now a great time to be a Huddersfield player. “Winning is massive and I think we have got into that rhythm of winning every week,” he explained. “It’s a great habit and we’ve realised what we need to be doing in the week in order to get the results and when you see it pay off it makes it all worth it.” Speaking to the Swaziland-born hooker shortly after the Giants’ home victory over Hull FC – a game in which Leeming made his return after a brief absence – he professed his joy that the team are showing a strength in depth which will benefit the team going forward. “For me, it was great coming back, playing well and the team still being in the winning habit.”
As one of many academy graduates in the Giants’ squad, it could be suggested that Leeming would have felt the effects of the team’s poor start more than most. However, that long-held affiliation with the club has clearly made the turnaround all the more meaningful to the hooker. “It’s surreal really,” he confessed, continuing that “turning over the likes of Saints and Wigan is a great achievement for any team and, if you would have said what we would do in the second half of the season, I’m not sure I’d have believed you!” Reflecting on the Giants’ change in fortunes, Leeming was keen to ponder what could have been had the team started this campaign in a positive fashion. “We wish we could start like this to be honest! We seem to start slowly each year, I don’t know why, and then come good towards the back end of the season. We often do that sort of thing in games as well and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t,” he explained, acknowledging that it is perhaps something that the team may need to work on.
The arrival at the club of Australian Woolford was, indeed, the catalyst of change in the club’s fortunes and now, sitting in fifth place, the team are certainly looking up. A former hooker himself, Leeming revealed that the man with over 250 NRL appearances hasn’t yet invested much time in tweaking his game – but is aware that may change. “I think that it’s been tough because he only came over mid-season and the stuff that he has had to do is to change the team as a whole at the moment rather than just focus on individual stuff,” he explained. “He has taught me little pieces and subtleties which has been great but I simply don’t think there’s been enough time yet to work too much with me as he’s had to turn the team around in the space of a few months.”
Further speaking about the impact of the Giants’ new head coach, Leeming added that the Australian has boosted standards since his arrival. “He’s brought them up in training, video sessions and on match days,” he noted. “Also, because we’ve had a lot of players come back from injury since he has been here means he has such a strong squad to pick from so we know that if we aren’t at 100% and at a nine or ten out of ten on the pitch then we won’t play. He’s made that clear to us from the get go.” Plus, given that the training sessions are now totally monitored, there isn’t anywhere to hide. “There’s a drone in the sky so there’s no real chance to have an off day or be lethargic – it’s watching everything we do because, ultimately, that will influence his decision come game day,” he revealed.
The change in fortune for Huddersfield has added to a good year off the field for Leeming who, early in the season, was named in the England Knights training squad – a place which was reiterated in July when the squads were revised. “It was something I was something I was certainly aiming at,” Leeming conveyed. “It is always nice to be involved in that sort of thing as it means that good performances and good attitudes do get noticed and I’m pleased to be involved – it’s a big step for me and is moving my career along nicely.” Indeed, the 22-year-old’s career thus far has seen him approach the hundred game mark for Huddersfield after making his debut for the club in 2013 but it is clear he has big ambitions going forward. “The dream for any player is to play in a World Cup for your country and hopefully win one,” he revealed.
That journey could take another big step at the end of this season as Leeming is likely to head to Papua New Guinea with the Knights to face the Kumuls in a two-match series. Of that trip, the Swaziland-born forward said “I think it’ll be a massive experience to go over there to play in the hostile environments which are different to what we’re used to. Things like that can help to shape your career and, one way or another, they can make or break you,” he acknowledged. “For us to go over there and play against the Papua New Guineans will be a real test both on and off the field,” he added, suggesting the distance from home and spending time with players who are your opponents throughout the season would be differences many players may not have faced before.
Clearly – from meeting the hooker – Leeming is a highly ambitious player and, when asked where he sees himself and his career in five years, the answer saw him aiming high. “I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t have expected to make my England debut,” he revealed, continuing that “ultimately, you want to win a Grand Final, a Challenge Cup and a World Cup and I think that is every player’s aim when they are playing professionally – people want to be winning trophies.”
If Huddersfield continue their upward curve into 2019 then they, and Leeming, may well be contenders to do just that.