AFTER TWO injury-ravaged seasons, winger Tom Briscoe’s goal is to be ever-present for Leeds Rhinos this year.
Briscoe scored nine tries in 13 games last term and 15 in 17 during 2015 and admits his first priority now is an injury-free run.
The winger’s problems last year began in Super League round two, a year and three days ago, when he suffered ankle damage in a 56-12 drubbing at Widnes Vikings.
Briscoe, who missed much of the 2015 campaign due to an early-season shoulder injury, is hoping for better things when Leeds visit promoted Leigh Centurions tonight for their second Betfred Super League fixture.
“For the past two years I’ve played less than 20 games and been out of most of the season,” said the 26-year-old former Hull man, who featured 31 times in his debut 2014 campaign.
“That’s my goal this year, to play more games. Obviously I can’t control injuries, but fingers crossed I get a good run this year. Hopefully the injuries are all behind me for a few years now and I can get a good run and put in some good performances.
“I want to aim at getting some consistency in my game and I am just starting to improve again. Obviously being out for so long over two years it is tough to get any consistency because I haven’t really been playing that much. That’s the main goal for me, to try and get some more game time.”
Briscoe has three England caps to his name and hasn’t ruled out a place in this year’s World Cup, if he can regain fitness and his best form.
“Obviously it is something I want to do again, I want to be part of that,” he said of playing for England. “The injuries I’ve had over the last two years have put a dampener on any ambition I had to be involved in that group, but hopefully if I get more game time and some consistency I can’t see any reason why I couldn’t be in and around that squad.”
Rhinos’ season began with a 6-4 defeat at St Helens last week. A second setback would revive memories of last year, when Leeds lost their opening four competitive matches and won only three of their first 19, but Briscoe insisted: “I think we will use last year as motivation, in not wanting that to happen again.
“We are all better for it and hopefully we have made improvements. It was a steep learning curve for everyone involved. We know where we don’t want to be this year so it’s all about us putting in the performances and getting the wins we need to not be in the position where we were last year.”
Rhinos beat Leigh 37-12 at Headingley in their final game of 2016, but Briscoe insisted there is no sense of complacency ahead of tonight.
A near full-house is expected for Leigh’s first home Super League fixture for 12 years and he warned: “I think our game in the Qualifiers last year showed they are going to be a tough side.
“They lost last weekend so they will be wanting to prove a point. We are under no illusions, it is going to be a tough game and we have got to be ready for that. They will want to get us into a grind and make it physical and our pack has got to match up to that.”
‘We will just concentrate on ourselves’ is one of the most-used cliches in rugby league, but Briscoe said in Leeds’ case it is spot on in 2017.
“I think for this year that’s going to be us,” he added.
“Obviously against Saints, after last year, we didn’t quite know where we were going to be at.
“To play Saints in the first game was great to get a measure of that and I thought we played well.
“Obviously we made a lot of improvements from last year, but there were still areas we need to work on.
“Going into this game it’s about concentrating on us and making sure we are all doing our jobs right and getting the improvements we feel we need week-in and week-out.”
Briscoe reckons the defensive effort Leeds put in last week will stand them in good stead, if they can maintain it throughout the campaign.
“From where we finished last year to where we are now, I think we’ve made great improvements,” he said.
“Our defensive display last week was very good, especially Ashton Golding at the back.
“He saved a few tries and I thought we kind of cancelled each other out in that respect.
“We made a few try-savers and they did the same.
“The one on Sutty [Liam Sutcliffe] by [Tommy] Makinson was a great tackle, but to take that into this week is going to be massive. Our key was our defence and we know we can play on the back of that.
“If we get a fair share of the ball and don’t make silly errors and we keep them contained in their half, I think we’d back ourselves as a back-three to get ourselves in a good position to have an attacking set.”
Leigh Centurions: from Brown, Higson, Crooks, Tonga, Dawson, Drinkwater, Hock, Higham, Paterson, Hansen, Pelissier, Tickle, Maria, Vea, Hampshire, Reynolds, Hopkins, Acton, Burr.
Leeds Rhinos: from Golding, Briscoe, Watkins, Hall, McGuire, Burrow, Parcell, Cuthbertson, Jones-Buchanan, Ablett, Ward, Sutcliffe, Singleton, Garbutt, Keinhorst, Mullally, Walters, Ormondroyd, Moon.
Referee: Jack Smith (Warrington).
Kick-off: Tonight, 8pm.