Headingly pitch upgrade is paying off says head groundsman Ryan Golding

Spring can't come soon enough for Leeds Rhinos’ grounds staff after a “unique and challenging” winter.

Head groundsman Ryan Golding and his team have had to cope with unprecedented rainfall in the build-up to games and the flooding of the club’s Kirkstall training pitches.

Despite the adverse conditions, all Rhinos’ – and Yorkshire Carnegie rugby union – matches at Headingley have gone ahead and Golding said the £1 million investment put into a new pitch four years ago is paying off.

“The heavy rain always seems to coincide with games, that is the bad luck we are having,” Golding said. “Last Friday, before the Huddersfield game, we had 36 millimetres of rain in 24 hours – and there was snow as well. I haven’t seen anything like that – I have never seen rain fall that fast or that sharp in the lead up to matchday in the 14 years I’ve been here.”

Golding revealed it was a case of all hands on deck, with greens keepers from local golf courses being drafted in to help fork the pitch and clear standing water before the scheduled 8pm kick-off.

“There was no doubt about the game going ahead, but I needed to get rid of as much surface water as possible,” Golding added.

“I said to Mac [Rhinos coach Brian McDermott] if we hadn’t done that it would have been a 1960s-style mudbath.”

There has been no let-up for the grounds staff since the devastating Boxing Day flood, which coincided with Rhinos’ opening pre-season game against Wakefield Trinity Wildcats at Headingley. A weather station on Headingley’s South Stand recorded 44 millimetres of rain in 36 hours over Christmas and the River Aire began to burst its banks just as the match was kicking off, when Golding and his staff were busy at Headingley.

“With the old pitch the Boxing Day game and the one last Friday would not have gone ahead,” Golding confirmed. “It shows we needed to make that investment.”

As well as keeping the Headingley surface in good shape, Golding and his staff maintain the training pitches at Kirkstall, which were all submerged on Boxing Day. The 3g artificial surface – also known as the Archie Gordon Ground and used by amateur club Milford Marlins – was destroyed, but is now being replaced. There are also two first-team pitches adjacent to the club’s Kirkstall offices, plus four at nearby Abbey Fields and Golding said: “We’ve had to do certain tests to make sure we can grow grass on them again. It’s not the flow of the river water that’s been the problem, it’s the silt deposits – there’s around an inch of silt all over. Times that by 7,000 square metres on one of those pitches and that is a lot of silt. One way to get rid of it is to take the top of the pitches off. We are planning on doing that once the temperature starts to lift.”

Depending on when that work is done, the pitches could be usable five to six weeks later. Rhinos are currently training elsewhere – including Stanningley community club and Leeds University.

First published on www.yorkshireeveningpost.co.uk, 9 March 2016. Written by Peter Smith