Bitter experience ensures Leeds Rhinos’ in-form forward Mitch Achurch does not get carried away with his start to the season.
Achurch has come off the bench in Rhinos’ three First Utility Super League matches so far and produced a series of eye-catching performances, leading to coach Brian McDermott saying he is in the best form of his Leeds career.
The former Penrith Panthers packman, now in his third season at Rhinos, is happy with the way he is going, but ahead of tonight’s trip to Hull he admitted what happened last year is a warning against taking anything for granted.
Achurch said: “Another injury last year halted me, not so much with my form, but I had cemented a starting spot in the back-row and I was playing well, but then I had an injury.
“I was only out for three weeks or so, but in a side like this if you spend three weeks on the sidelines there’s going to be someone stepping into your position and playing really well.
“It was just bad timing. I got injured, Jonesy (Jamie Jones-Buchanan) came back and started playing really well and I was sort of pushed around the team.
“I ended up back in the front-row and I just found it really hard to find my feet again. So this year we’ve spoken about finding that form again – and hopefully I am slowly getting there – and then continuing it on for the rest of the season.”
Achurch said his experience last year “sort of brought me back down to earth” and he added: “I don’t get a lot of credit for some of the stuff I do and I don’t want it.
“Me and Mac (coach Brian McDermott) speak about just wanting to get better every week.
“Slowly I am doing that I think, but after what happened last year I can’t get too ahead of myself because a small injury or anything can jump in the way and stop you.”
Achurch is enjoying his back-row role, running out wide rather than up the middle of the field. He said: “I think it suits me a little bit better.
“When I first came over I was 115 kilos. At Penrith that’s what they needed me to be, I think I played 15-20 minutes and that was me, I was gassed and I had to come off.
“I think if I was still at that stage physically then front-row’d probably be my spot, but when I came over there was more demand on me to play longer minutes.
“I never knew how long I was going to get, so I had to strip a bit of weight. I am down to about 108 kilos now and I can play longer minutes and be quicker.
“Standing on the edge and running at some of the smaller blokes suits me perfectly physically at the moment.”
Achurch is enjoying the game time he is getting, despite being among the substitutes. He said: “It is more of an ego thing being in the starting side.
“I felt I had earned myself that starting spot last year, then I came back from injury and I couldn’t get it back. It took me all year to find my feet again.
“But Mac and I have spoken about playing a role within the team and my role at the start of the season has been to come on and make an impact.
“I have sort of been determining my own minutes at the moment, because if I make an impact and I am doing what he wants me to do he will keep me out there as long as I can play.
“We have got a pretty good relationship at the moment, Mac and I, and I think it is benefitting the team.”
One of the highlights of last Thursday’s win over Huddersfield Giants was Achurch’s offload which sent his housemate Stevie Ward on a break, leading to a try for Tom Briscoe.
“When I came over the team had lost the likes of Ali Lauitiiti, who had the ability to offload the ball and play through the line, which is what I was good at in Australia,” Achurch said.
“It took me a while for the boys in the team to recognise that in me, but this year it feels like when I get the ball everyone’s bouncing around and looking for me to get the ball away and even if I can’t it’s usually a quick play-the-ball.
“It’s more a recognition from the blokes around me that give me the ball and stuff can happen. Hopefully for the rest of the year there’ll be blokes going through holes when I get the ball.”
Achurch will be looking to make an impact again tonight as Rhinos aim to make it four wins from four. He said: “Hull have made some good signings and done really well with recruitment.
“Last year we had a tough game there against them and lost.
“That sticks in our minds and we want to get them back for that. We felt we should have won that one, but we let it get away from us and it was a pretty poor performance.
“They are nearly a completely new team so there’s a fresh attitude going in for this one and hopefully we can get the job done.”
Hull from: Rankin, Lineham, Sa, Yeaman, Talanoa, Pryce, Sneyd, Paea, Houghton, Watts, Ellis, Minichiello, Westerman, Green, Thompson, Bowden, Michaels, Paleaaesina, Shaul.
Leeds Rhinos from: Hardaker, Briscoe, Watkins, Moon, Hall, Sinfield, McGuire, Cuthbertson, Aiton, Peacock, Ablett, S Ward, Jones-Buchanan, Achurch, Leuluai, Sutcliffe, Singleton, Burrow, Walters.
Referee: Richard Silverwood.
Kick-off: Tonight, 8pm.