Yusuf Aydin: Unconventional
"I had to scramble to try to find a pair of boots that I could wear because I didn’t own any."
The long motorway drives to away matches, the missed social events and the ever-lasting commitment to the cause.
The journey towards making your debut is a story of sacrifice, passion and responsibility.
And the moment finally arrives; you get the call from your head coach to tell you that you are playing - all the hard work has paid off.
Since resumption in 2020, we’ve seen many youngsters given the chance to shine under Super League’s bright lights.
No relegation and Covid-19 isolation rules have meant clubs have been willing – sometimes out of necessity - to give their young players an opportunity.
For some of them, it may be as good as it gets. The brutal reality of sport is that talent alone is often not enough.
Others, however, are just at the start of long careers in rugby league.
In the first of a number of interviews speaking to players who have made their Super League debut in 2020, superleague.co.uk caught up with Wakefield Trinity’s Yusuf Aydin.
The 19-year-old opens up on his unusual route to the sport, playing international rugby league for Turkey and the moment he found out that he would be handed his Super League debut.
Yusuf Aydin’s journey to Super League is a story best described as unconventional.
Many players dream from a young age that they will make it professional in rugby league, but sport wasn’t even on Aydin’s radar until he turned 14.
His first foray into rugby league came because his school side were short of numbers for a match.
From there, his development came at a rapid pace.
“I wasn’t into any sport growing up; it didn’t remotely interest me,” Aydin said.
“In school, I was always a lot bigger than everyone else and would quite often mess around when it came to playing sport.
“One day my teacher came up to me and asked if I fancied playing rugby because they were short of players.
“I said yes, but it was all very strange. I had to scramble to try to find a pair of boots that I could wear because I didn’t own any.
“The game seemed to go okay, and I started playing for Eastmoor RLFC just after.
“I played a few matches for them before Wakefield called and offered me a scholarship.
“The entire experience was a massive whirlwind; I have been in love with the sport ever since.”
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— Wakefield Trinity (@WTrinityRL) September 11, 2020
Aydin’s development at Trinity saw him offered a first team contract at the end of the 2018 season after impressing in the youth setup at the Mobile Rocket Stadium.
He was unable to force his way into Chris Chester’s plans in 2019 but did make an impact on the international stage for one of rugby league’s emerging nations.
Aydin’s father is Turkish – born in the southwestern city of Marmaris – which opened the door for him to make his international debut last year.
“It was a crazy opportunity to get the chance to play for Turkey – it came completely out of the blue,” he explained.
“I got a message last March asking about my Turkish heritage, so I told them about my dad.
“They asked me whether I would be keen to go out and play for them in an international.
"It was an easy decision. I said yes, so they booked me onto a flight to Australia; everything moved very quickly."
Aydin played in an international against Malta in Sydney last October.
Unfortunately, Malta ran out 28-12 winners, but the experience was about so much more than the result.
“I learnt a lot on that trip - I had no idea so many people in Turkey played rugby league,” Aydin said.
“With it being a country that has only recently started playing the sport, I didn’t expect Turkish-Australians to be so invested in rugby league.
“I’d suggest we are still about 10 years away from Turkey being ready to compete on the international stage and participate at events such as the World Cup, but progress is being made.
"The authorities in Turkey are doing all they can to try to grow the sport.
“They aren’t just doing stuff with men's rugby; women’s and youth leagues have also been setup.
“Because rugby league is early in its development in Turkey - it’s all about gaining as much recognition as possible.
“We want people to engage with the sport, whether that’s playing or watching.”
His experiences in Australia at the back end of 2019 gave Aydin added motivation heading into 2020.
After featuring in pre-season matches against Huddersfield Giants and Hull KR, he had hoped to make his Super League debut earlier this season.
However, rupturing his ankle ligaments and Covid-19 put those aspirations on hold.
There was a further blow to Aydin’s ambitions when the reserve league was cancelled.
Although his chance did eventually come.
Aydin - along with Connor Bailey - made his Super League bow against Hull FC last month.
“I was over the moon when Chezzy [Chris Chester] told me – playing for my hometown club was such a massive dream,” he said.
“I was gutted when the reserve league got cancelled and didn’t know how much rugby I’d play this season.
“In many ways, it was a blessing. It meant I had to work that much harder to get an opportunity to play rugby in 2020.
“The day of the game itself was quite a nervous one, for me.
“I felt much better when I started warming up and got the ball in hand - all the excitement came flooding back.”
For many young players, securing their future in a world of sporting uncertainty presents a unique challenge that professionals have not faced before.
But, as Aydin suggests, without the threat of relegation and no spectators in the stands, there may never be a better time to make your debut.
“I would say that not playing in front of supporters probably helped - it took the pressure off me a bit,” he outlined.
“I have never really played in front of a crowd before; most of the matches in my career to date have come at under-19’s level where no one is watching.
“It could help the players making their debuts this season because the transition won’t feel as steep.
“Even with no relegation, there’s still a pressure to perform.
“However, the coaches can operate in a more relaxed manner and pick their side with a little bit less pressure on them.
“A relaxed atmosphere suits players, too. It is then our responsibility to translate that into results on the pitch.”
Photo Credit: Dean Williams