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Leeds Rhinos’ Leota living by rule of three ahead of 2024 season

Leeds Rhinos head coach Liana Leota is living by the rule of three as she prepares for the 2024 Netball Super League season. 

The New Zealand native is embarking on the second year of a three-year vision at the helm of the Yorkshire franchise and has undergone a rebuild ahead of the new campaign. 

She has brought in England legend Geva Mentor and shooting star Joyce Mvula, who will form the spine of the team alongside mid-court powerhouse Caroline O’Hanlon. 

“Top four is the aim,” said the England assistant coach. “I think we’ve got the team this year to do that. 

“We’ve got world class players in each area of court. For me, that was key when we went out recruiting.

 “So Geva in defence, Caroline O’Hanlon in the middle, and Joyce in attack and then for us it was just finding people that fit in, that will work hard, that are team players, and that just need some guidance.  

“It was just the strength and stability in those three areas and then finding good players that are willing to work hard and willing to work for the team first was huge in my recruitment process.” 

O’Hanlon is one of only four returning players for Leeds Rhinos, who finished seventh last year. 

But despite the high turnover of players, Leota insists that her side are still on track in her three-year plan. 

She said: “My goal was always a three-year vision because in order to start something, you have to slowly see progress. 

“Different players leave for different reasons, so when that happened, I was like, ‘Ok, what do I need to do in this recruitment process? Who do I need to go after?’

“Those three players in each area of the court were key, and then I was just finding out who was going to fit nicely with them, and who’s going to also learn. 

“When I went through the recruitment phase, I was like, ‘I’m going to have to start back at year one.’

“But in the last couple of weeks with more match play, more pre-season under our belt, I definitely feel like I’m further ahead. 

“I feel like I’m in a better place than we were last year, but we’re just going to have to learn on the run because we are a new team and we need to find that consistency in order to perform well.” 

From Mentor to Mvula and another new signing from Antipodea, former Collingwood Magpie Zoe Davies, all of them have cited Leota as the reason for joining Rhinos. 

The 39-year-old insists that she is not just very persuasive, but she looks to find the human in the athlete. 

“I think it just goes down to the values and how I was brought up,” she explained. “I have a big family, I come from eight siblings.  

“So everything is about like, I will do anything for my family and with netball, that is a family. 

“I see these girls more than I see my children and my husband. So there has to be that type of relationship, there has to be a connection, it can’t be surface level. 

“I need to know who you are as a person, what you like to do and I also want you to know me and my family.  

“For me, that’s huge and that is definitely a selling point. I just can’t have players that don’t want to engage on that level, because then I can’t help them.” 

When Leota joined the franchise in 2021, she signed a three-year contract to take her through to the 2025 season. 

Past that, the future is up in the air, but Leota admits that Aotearoa is calling for her and husband Johnny, who works as an academy coach for rugby union side Sale Sharks. 

But before then, Leota hopes to have some silverware to take back to New Zealand with her. 

She said: “My vision is three years but I’m sure it will depend on my family and when they want to return back to New Zealand. 

“I’ve loved my time at Leeds Rhinos I couldn’t see myself going anywhere else as long as we keep continuing to build and get that consistency. 

“The first year of the vision, we’ll take that out, but I feel like where we are today, we’ve gained from that. 

“This year is about consistency and performance and then the year after is about going for gold.”

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