This weekend’s Lazenby Cup encounter with Hunslet Hawks is an important stage in Leeds Rhinos’ pre-season, insists boss Brian McDermott.
Rhinos have sometimes used the game as an academy fixture but McDermott has included six first-teamers for Sunday’s derby, alongside some of the club’s most highly-rated under-19s.
Kylie Leuluai, Ryan Bailey and Brad Singleton will all make their first appearance of pre-season at South Leeds Stadium and fellow forwards Chris Clarkson and Mitch Achurch continue in the side after playing against Wakefield Trinity Wildcats on Boxing Day.
Yorkshire Evening Post Shooting Star Liam Sutcliffe is the only senior player in the back division.
The Rhinos squad held a joint training session with Hunslet at their Kirkstall training base yesterday and Hawks team chief Barry Eaton has been working with Leeds as a specialist kicking coach.
“It is two things,” McDermott said of the annual clash. “It is traditional and it is something we look forward to and want to keep going.
“But it is also very useful for us in pre-season. It is a great opportunity for those who have picked up niggles in pre-season and those who need game time.
“It provides important game-time for some of our players and the first teamers who are involved will be staking a claim to be among the 18 men who face London the week after.”
Youngsters Ash Handley, Robbie Ward, Ben White, Josh Walters, George Milton and Dan Grange will be given a second run-out after featuring against Wakefield.
Rhinos’ line-up includes a famous name, with Leeds Met student Lewis Jones starting alongside Walters in the centres.
Jones is a rugby union convert, like his namesake, who set a host of records for Leeds in the 1950s and 60s.
The majority of Sunday’s squad recently returned from a 10-day under-19s pre-season training camp in the south of France.
Bailey’s testimonial game, at home to London Broncos on Friday, January 31, will be Rhinos’ full-scale warm-up before their First Utility Super League opener at Hull KR on February 16.
“The team that night will be there or thereabouts,” said McDermott. “I think the testing and adjusting will have gone on in pre-season and in the Hunslet game and that will be our real hit-out. That will be our combinations for the season, or the first stage of it.”
McDermott is happy with the way preparations have gone so far. “We are in the deep, dark days and we’ve still got a lot of heavy work to do,” he said.
“I said to the players on day one I don’t think you can win the Grand Final based on what you do in pre-season. But I know you can probably never get there if you don’t do pre-season properly.”
Rhinos’ side for Sunday: Ash Handley, Jordan Harper, Josh Walters, Lewis Jones, Ashton Golding, Liam Sutcliffe, Ben White, Kylie Leuluai, Robbie Ward, Brad Singleton, Chris Clarkson, Mitch Achurch, Ryan Bailey. Substitutes: Rob Mulhern, George Milton, Matthew Stableford, Dan Grange, Ben Frankland.