Danny scores as the face of Rugby League

DAVID SAFFER meets a sporting official who has made his mark wherever he has been

THE Rugby Football League is pushing new frontiers under PR manager Danny Reuben.

As the 2013 World Cup looms, increased exposure is needed for the national team.

And England's origin match versus The Exiles, a side boasting top Australian and New Zealand Super League stars, at Headingley in June, kickstarts the process.

"A key initiative sees fans select 13 squad members for coach Brian McClennan," said Danny, who is handling media operations. "It's an exciting concept."

Leeds-born Danny enjoyed a traditional Jewish upbringing.

"Simchat Torah was my favourite festival," he said. "I loved the vibrancy at Moortown Shul."

Growing up, cricket and Rugby League were his great passions.

"My father was a huge Leeds United and Leeds RL fan, but my love of the sport came from my grandfather, Mottie Hollander.

"He was a passionate fan and we spent hours talking about the great Leeds side of the 1930s.

"He was close to the players and told a great story about centre Fred Harris who helped Leeds defeat Warrington in the Challenge Cup final at Wembley in 1936.

"After the match they had a drink, got a little drunk and he fell asleep on the journey home.

"He woke up at Leeds' Holbeck station with Fred's winners medal in his hand.

"Fred was nowhere to be seen but he handed it back later."

The Loiners were Danny's team, but not his earliest rugby memory.

"I was mesmerised by the Australian 'Invincibles' touring side in 1982," he recalled.

Aussie Eric Grothe signed for Leeds and scored a hat-trick on his début when Danny had his first season ticket. But the New Year's Day bow was tinged with tragedy.

"Even now I find it difficult to come to terms with my grandfather's death a few months earlier as we were so close," he said.

Danny duly followed Leeds RL with his dad, Mel Reuben, and elder brother Simon. And the Loiners always enjoyed a Jewish following.

"In my grandfather's day, Rugby League was the No 1 sport for Jews and there were loads of Jewish fans around us in the North Stand," he said.

Educated at Morris Silman and Allerton Grange Schools, a work placement at Leeds RL while studying at Airedale and Wharfedale College gave Danny his break in the sport in 1990.

Part of a new media and PR team, he stayed until Leeds Rhinos (as they became known in the Super League era) won the Challenge Cup in 1999.

"We created so many things," he recalled. "Radio Headingley broadcast on home match days, we started a club call line and had one of the first websites.

"I dealt with the players and coach, travelled to matches with the team and reported on everything. My grandfather would have loved it."

Danny added: "The Challenge Cup win (the club's first since 1978) was fantastic, but tops was a semi-final victory over St Helens in '94. It was the first time we'd reached Wembley in years.

"The satisfaction and team effort felt like a dream. I sat in the stand for 40 minutes afterwards. We lost to Wigan in the final, but the 'semi' win was special."

A talented cricketer, Danny represented Great Britain at the Maccabiah Games in 1997.

"We lost to Israel in a third place play-off but it was an unforgettable experience," he said.

A new media challenge loomed at Burnley FC.

"I moved into another sport for career progression," he said. "Ian Wright, who starred at Arsenal, joined and was the catalyst for promotion. We then missed the play-offs on goal difference so it was an exciting time."

Headhunted as head of media for Bolton Wanderers, Danny worked for Sam Allardyce.

"Sam had a knack of signing quality overseas players," he said. "When Ivan Campo, Jay-Jay Okocha and Youri Djorkaeff arrived we were catapulted with inquiries from around the world.

"I worked with the players, management and board of directors to implement media policy. It was a privileged position to be part of the inner-sanctum.

"For six years it was amazing as Bolton played in the UEFA Cup and toured Japan, Thailand and South Korea, but it was demanding on the family."

Danny had a great relationship with the Bolton boss.

"Sam is an amazing guy and always positive," he said. "His great strengths were attention to detail and player stat innovations. Sam called it 'big brother' looking at the players."

Spurning a chance to follow Big Sam to Newcastle United, Danny worked with retro football shirt specialists Score Draw when Manchester United reached a Champions League final.

And at Blue Crocodile, he helped build media profiles for England cricketers Tim Bresnan and Adil Rashid.

Back in the Rugby League fold, he wants to raise the profile of Super League, England brand and RFL. And Danny intends to keep "chipping away" at more media coverage.

"For me it's the best sport in the world, but is not portrayed that way in the media," he said.

"Super League is the most watched competition outside football, better than the Aviva Premiership in Rugby Union and domestic cricket.

"Rugby League has a lot going for it. It's about getting the message across that it is not just a northern sport. Super League is played in Wales, London and France.

"Attendances hold up to the Aviva Premiership and although you will never compete with football we have plenty to shout about."

Danny added: "Rugby League has suffered with a poor international calendar so we must build a brand where fans associate with a successful England team.

"International Rugby Union has touch-points where fans engage with the national team at autumn internationals, Six Nations and summer internationals in the southern hemisphere.

"We have touch-points with the Exiles game, which hopefully will reinvigorate international rugby here and then Four Nations potentially at Wembley in October."

The World Cup also looms on the horizon.

"It's the biggest staged in England and Wales and a lot of work is going on behind the scenes," he said.

"It can take the sport on to another level, but we must create English sporting heroes before 2013.

"The tournament offers a huge opportunity for positive awareness across the globe."

Away from international rugby, the sport is renowned for grass roots and community links.

"Locally, Leeds Rhinos run clinics at schools and have visited Brodetsky Primary School," he said. "They also took the Super League trophy to the MAZZ community centre in Leeds when they won it."

And working back in north Leeds, Danny wants to see more community teams - including a Jewish side - playing the sport.

"Some of dad's friends played for Leeds Judean in the '70s," he said. "Leeds Maccabi are excelling at junior level so why not a Rugby League team? Plenty of dads and kids follow the sport so it has to be an opportunity."

For the sport to prosper though the bigger picture means more media coverage.

"We are looking at opportunities," he said. "Sky does a wonderful job for Rugby League and are a credit to the sport, but we'd like to engage more with the masses on terrestrial TV.

"The calendar is tight but a 9s summer tournament will incorporate 12 Super League and invitation teams. It's a different angle and hopefully will be a vibrant competition."

Danny added: "The Super League licence system has been positive. Clubs can plan three or four years in advance rather than worrying about promotion and relegation.

"It has also seen improvements to spectator facilitates and most clubs are moving to new grounds or developing stadiums.

"Teams can build squads and attendances don't fluctuate as much with moving through divisions.

"Rugby League is moving forward. We have an opportunity to get more blue chip sponsors and our media profile will develop.

"For all sports, newspaper circulation is shrinking but we have a new digital media unit at the RFL.

"It's working well with guys on the road doing interviews with clubs and players. The material is developed and sent to broadcasters. We need to continually raise the profile of Rugby League."

© 2011 Jewish Telegraph