WHEN ONE door slams shut, another one tends to open.
Leeds Rhinos will go into tonight’s home First Utility Super League fixture against Huddersfield Giants without arguably their player of the season so far, full-back Zak Hardaker, who is beginning a five-match ban.
That is a major blow for Rhinos, but could give Ben Jones-Bishop – seven tries in just six appearances this term – an opportunity for a sustained run in the side.
Jones-Bishop is a two-time Grand Final winner and has made 77 senior appearances for Rhinos – touching down 53 times – but has had to play a fringe role since Tom Briscoe was signed from Hull for the start of this season.
That led to Jones-Bishop signing a three-year deal with Salford Red Devils, beginning in 2015. But he insisted he remains committed to Rhinos until the end of his contract this autumn and is determined to make the most of his chance if it comes tonight.
“I have always been concentrating on Leeds,” Jones-Bishop said. “Obviously lack of game time is the reason I have had to go elsewhere.
“At the minute I am just playing when someone needs a rest. Circumstances have arisen in which Zak has got a ban and that might give me an opportunity to play a few games back-to-back, which would be nice. I will take it from there and see what happens. It’s not nice to get in under those circumstances and I haven’t played for about four weeks either, but that’s the way it is this year. It is something I have been used during the beginning of the season, so I will play it by ear and see how it goes.”
Jones-Bishop said it is difficult coming into the team on an occasional basis.
He added: “I am generally fit. I get put through my paces by the staff here and I do stuff away from the club to make sure I am fit, but match fitness, I haven’t got any. It is hard to recreate that, but you just have to go out there and do the best you can. That is what I will be trying to do.”
Rhinos’ first-choice back division this year has been Hardaker as last line of defence, with Briscoe and Ryan Hall on the wings and Kallum Watkins and Joel Moon in the centres. Jones-Bishop would be first-choice at virtually any other club and is clearly frustrated at a lack of opportunities.
“I feel I have done all right, I have done well for the team,” he said of the games he has played. “Against Wigan wasn’t my best performance, but I didn’t really see much of the ball.
“Other than that I like to think I have done well. It is how it is, how I perform has no bearing on whether I play or not. “I play when I am told and do my best for the team.”
With Hardaker unavailable until the middle of next month, Leeds will need Jones-Bishop to be on song as they look to regain their early season form, beginning tonight against resurgent Giants.
“It will be very tough,” he said of the visit of Rhinos’ bogey club. “They had a good win over Wigan last time they played and they didn’t have a game last weekend, so they’ve had time to prepare for us. We are coming into it with a few bodies a bit battered and bruised after a tough game last Friday. They always are tough games, they are a good team and we will look forward to a good battle. I am not sure why they have done so well against us recently. The game at the beginning of the year was very close, a draw and I think the two teams bring the best out of each other.”
Leeds have lost two of their last three games and Jones-Bishop added: “It is important. We have got a run of games now before the (Tetley’s Challenge Cup) semi-final. We have a few players missing so it is a bit disjointed at the minute, but it gives somebody else a chance to step up and try and stake a claim.
“Robbie Ward and Josh Walters have both come in and done good. We keep bringing players through and giving them first-team rugby and they learn from being among the senior players. They bring enthusiasm with them to training and the willingness to learn, so it is great for the club.”
Tonight’s game could see Jones-Bishop up against his former Leeds academy and Queens amateur club team mate Jodie Broughton, who joined Huddersfield Giants from Salford Red Devils in the off-season.
“He lives over the road from me,” said Jones-Bishop. “There might be some banter, but we tend to leave things be.
“He doesn’t ask me any questions and I don’t ask him any, so that way we don’t have to lie to each other!”
Rhinos’ under-19s face Huddersfield in a curtain-raiser tonight (5.30pm).
Leeds Rhinos: from Jones-Bishop, Briscoe, Watkins, Moon, Hall, Sinfield, Sutcliffe, Leuluai, R Ward, Peacock, S Ward, Delaney, R Bailey, Singleton, Clarkson, Kirke, Walters, Minchella, McGuire,
Huddersfield Giants: from Grix, McGillvary, Cudjoe, Wardle, Murphy, Brough, Wood, Faiumu, Robinson, Johnson, Ferres, Lawrence, C Bailey, Crabtree, Patrick, Ta’ai, Kopczak, Chan, Broughton.
Referee: Richard Silverwood (Mirfield).