Australian forward Mitch Achurch has vowed to step up a level for Leeds Rhinos this year.
Achurch is preparing for his second season in Super League and is confident he will be a better player with 12 months’ experience of English rugby under his belt.
The former Penrith Panthers back-rower made 24 senior appearances in 2013, but was hampered by a serious knee injury suffered mid-way through the campaign.
Now fully fit, he is aiming to improve on last year’s tally of just four starts.
“I am over the injury completely now,” he said. “I have done a full six weeks’ pre-season and it’s the first time I’ve done that for a few years.
“I will be looking to start the year the way I finished in the last couple of games. I thought I started to come good towards the back end of the season.
“Hopefully I can hit the ground running and I hope I’ll be better for having been here a year.”
Achurch added: “A big part of it was just settling in. The whole first year it took me a while to find a place I was comfortable living.
“Now I am living with [team mate] Brad Singleton not far from the stadium, I have made my friends and I know everyone now. There’s no reason why I can’t put my best foot forward and have a real dig this year.”
The English conditions will be less of a shock to Achurch in 2014, he said.
“Coming over from Australia you expect it to be cold, but you don’t really expect to be that much of an influence on what you do,” he admitted.
“But it really is. Just the way we prepare, sometimes we can’t get out on the pitch because it’s frozen and it’s things like that we don’t have to worry about in Australia.
“Now that I have got my head around that and I know what to expect, I am looking forward to a big year.”
Achurch played out of position at prop in last week’s opening pre-season game against Wakefield Trinity Wildcats.
“I don’t mind it,” he said. “We struggled in the front-row and me and Chris Clarkson had to play some big minutes, but in that situation I just wanted to get some fitness and there’s no better place to do that than in the middle.
“I prefer the back-row, but in this team we’ve got internationals all over the park, so wherever I can squeeze my head in and get a game, I am happy to play anywhere.”
Achurch said he feels better for last week’s game. “It went well,” he said. “It was a bit of a lung-buster and it was good to get a hit-out after all the training we’ve done for the last few weeks.
“It was chance to blow some cobwebs out and see where we’re at. We ran a pretty young side and I think all the young boys held their own and did a good job.”
Wildcats kicked a last-gasp penalty to salvage an 18-18 draw after Leeds had twice led by eight points, but Achurch insisted the result isn’t a concern.
“It is hard at this stage of pre-season,” he said. “We haven’t had the England boys back in training yet, so the combinations aren’t really there.
“We did our best and that’s all you can ask for. We wanted to get some fitness under our belt in a game situation and that’s what we did.”