9th January 2019, 11:27 | Leeds
England Academy forward Muizz Mustapha has agreed a new two-year contract with Leeds Rhinos and will be elevated to the full time first team squad for the 2019 season.
The Nigerian-born forward was part of the England Academy squad that gained a historic series win over the Australian Schoolboys back in December and he has now joined the Rhinos first team squad ahead of the new Betfred Super League season.
Looking ahead to the new season, the 18-year-old said: “I am really pleased to be joining the first team squad. It is a big reward for my hard work in the Academy and the success I enjoyed with the England Academy recently. This is what I have been working towards since I joined the club.
“It has always been a dream to earn a full-time contract with the club since I was young and I cannot wait to get started. I started playing Rugby League when I was at primary school and I fell in love with the game the first moment I played it.
"I joined my local club at Hunslet Warriors and then managed to get a trial with the Rhinos Scholarship and then signed for the club from the Scholarship programme,” added Mustapha, who made his senior Rugby League debut for Featherstone in the final game of last season as a replacement in Rovers Championship Shield Final win over Leigh on dual registration.
🏴 SERIES WINNERS 🎉— England Rugby League (@England_RL) December 14, 2018
WHAT A FEELING 😃 pic.twitter.com/GUcfuqdc7K
Born in Offa in central Nigeria, Mustapha moved to Leeds when he was five. He made 18 appearances for the Rhinos Under 19 side last season as they reached the Academy Grand Final, scoring two tries. He followed that up with appearances in both Test wins against Australia and he admits that experience has given him a boost as he embarks on his debut season in the first team squad.
He added: “It was a great experience to be part of the England Academy squad especially with so many Rhinos players in the squad. I still can’t stop thinking about it and that has given me a lot of confidence to take the next step in my career. There are not many teams who have managed to get a series win over the Australian Schoolboys in the history of the game and I was fortunate to be part of a great group of players.”
Mustapha, who has been awarded squad number 36, has been training with the first team squad since the turn of the year and was part of the squad’s mini camp last week. He says he already feels at home within the group.
He added: “The first team squad have been very welcoming to me and that has made it a great environment to be in. I am challenging myself against world class players in training every day and that can only make me a better player. Hopefully I can make my debut for the first team this season and gain as much experience as a I can.
“The fact that I have got this opportunity hopefully shows all the lads in the Academy that if you listen to what your coaches are telling you and do the best you can, that opportunities will come for you here at the Rhinos.
"Rob Burrow was a massive help for me last season in the Under 19s. He is a great coach along with the rest of the staff at the Academy and they have helped me get to where I am today, which I really appreciate.
“It was great to play alongside a number of players who were part of the first team squad last season. They would come back down to Under 19 training and teach us what they had been learning with the senior team and I will be looking to do that this year with the younger players in the Academy too,” added Mustapha.