Harrogate rugby chief Mike Aspinall paid credit to Willem Enslin’s development from Yorkshire League player to National Two North lynch pin after the number eight played his last game for the club.
Enslin headed off to Canada due to work commitments this week, leaving Harrogate a gulf to replace in their defensive and attacking quarters.
The South African has become a cult figure since joining the club from York last season and the Harrogate squad toasted his influence at Rudding Lane on Saturday evening after giving him a parting gift with a 39-22 comeback victory over Chester.
Aspinall said: “We have made a habit of taking Yorkshire League players in and making them National League players.
“But I don’t think I have ever worked with anyone that has improved as much as that.
“When he turned up at Harrogate, he was very raw and was a very good ball carrier but couldn’t catch.
“Where he leaves us, this season his defence has been right up there with the best in the team.
“His work off the ball is outstanding and he gives us many options around himself as a ball carrier because he makes good decisions with ball in hand.
“It’s huge credit to the guy for the way he has set about his work. He always plays with real passion and emotion in his game.”
Back-rower Tim Heaton has been earmarked as Enslin’s replacement when Harrogate visit Sale next week.
However, Aspinall will throw the gauntlet down to a bundle of players he believes could fill the number eight void, including Wheatley Hills signing Tom White and former colt Jonny Coser.
Read more in this week’s Harrogate Advertiser.