Hooker Phil Nilsen has become only the second player in the club’s history to be granted a testimonial after it was revealed he is embarking on a benefit year with the club.
The 30-year-old is the longest serving player at the club and is now fourth in the all-time appearance list behind Mike Shelley, Rob Rawlinson and Tom Palmer. He is a product of the club's academy and since making his debut in 2006 he has emerged to become a key member of the squad.
Commenting on being granted a testimonial he said, “I am very proud to have received a testimonial and it is a great honour for me. I have been at the club a long time now and it is not something that has happened many times in the club's history.
“Through the years with promotions and relegations, the club has always strived to be a top of the game. The rebranding of the club to Yorkshire Carnegie and the fresh investment from new owners has pushed the club on to achieve those goals and it is great to be involved.
“The fans have always been great with me. In the modern era with social media it is fantastic that we are able to keep in touch with supporters and let them know how the team is doing. The guys who travel to watch us week in and week out are brilliant and the support we get from the local community has been really appreciated during my time at the club,” added Nilsen.
In 2004 Nilsen was part of the National Colts Final winning team and in 2005 he helped the Leeds Carnegie pick up the Yorkshire Senior Cup. He was named in Stuart Lancaster's first senior squad ahead of the 2006-07 season and made his debut for the club in the high pressure game against Cornish Pirates that season.
As well as events at Headingley Carnegie, Nilsen will be using the benefit year to also go back to the grassroots of the game and thank those who have supported him throughout his career. He is also learning some new life skills for life after rugby when he retires. He added, “It is something I have never done before. I have always been rugby or sport related when it comes to things away from training but the testimonial has really opened my eyes. I am involved in organising the dinners and speaking to sponsors. It has been great to see how the club operates and it has given me an insight into another aspect of the sport when it comes to life after my rugby career.
“Hopefully I can do some events with Yorkshire Carnegie and Bradford Salem, where I am coaching now and my local club back home where I started when I was ten years old and have supported me throughout my career. It will be nice to do something at each club and say thank you to people for their support,” added the hooker.
Yorkshire Carnegie come into this afternoon’s clash with Rotherham on the back of impressive wins over London Scottish in the Cup and Nilsen admits those wins were vital to restore confidence in the team. He added, “It was tough after losing a few games in the Championship which lost us some momentum. Our big focus going into the last two British & Irish Cup games was to get back to winning ways and get back on a roll and we have done that in the two games against London Scottish when we've come away with two bonus point wins.”
A veteran of many Yorkshire derbies down the years, Nilsen says games against the most local rivals is always something that lifts him. He added, “I love games against Rotherham and the local derbies have always been something I have enjoyed. The games against Doncaster and Rotherham are always massive challenges and we always know we are in for a battle. It shows how strong rugby union is in Yorkshire at present with all four sides vying for a top four spot. It is about trying to tap into that local support base but I think the form all three teams have shown this year shows the talent that is within the county.”