Leeds Rhinos flier savouring festive cheer this year

Zak Hardaker.
Zak Hardaker.
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For one Leeds Rhinos player this year’s festive period is set to be much happier than last year. Peter Smith reports.

This Christmas is set to be a much happier time for Leeds Rhinos back Ben Jones-Bishop than 12 months ago.

A year ago today Jones-Bishop was told he had suffered a pulmonary embolism – a blood clot on a lung – which would keep him out of action for half the following Super League season.

Jones-Bishop had been gearing up to play in the annual Heatshot Festive Challenge, on Boxing Day, when medics broke the shattering news.

The England Knights flier endured a frustrating six months on the sidelines before bursting back into action to feature in Rhinos’ final 14 games of the campaign.

He bagged nine tries during that run and will be aiming to keep the momentum going when he faces Wakefield Trinity Wildcats in this year’s festive fixture.

“Pre-season had been a lot better than last year,” said Jones-Bishop, who was among the first players to report in to begin pre-season, almost two months ago.

“I am feeling good and training’s going well. I am just looking forward to hopefully putting my name up for selection for the full year and trying to get a shirt.

“Last year was a Christmas I won’t forget, but I am not thinking about it now. I don’t know how it (the illness) came about, it was just one of those things.

“I have had a few unlucky breaks and one of the things I’ve learned from the injuries I’ve had previously is you have to stay focused, crack on and make the most of it when you get back.”

Jones-Bishop did that, ending the competitive 2013 campaign as one of Rhinos’ form players.

“It was good to be back and I felt like I was ready to go,” he recalled. “My body had a good break and I was fresh because I could not do much contact.

“Davo (head conditioner Jason Davidson) and Richard Hunwicks got me ready to play and it went quite well.”

Despite Jones-Bishop’s impressive finish to the season he faces strong competition for a place on the right-wing after Leeds signed England man Tom Briscoe from Hull on a five-year deal.

Jones-Bishop, whose own contract expires at the end of 2014, can see the sense in adding another outside-back to the squad.

“Tom is a good player,” he said. “I’ve got on well with him during England camps and he is a good addition to the squad.

“When I got injured the depth (of the squad) got found out a bit. It is very unusual for everybody to be fit, so bringing somebody in adds to the strength of the squad.”

But the former Queens amateur, who has scored 46 tries in 71 senior appearances for Leeds since his debut in 2009, admits Briscoe’s arrival could also be seen as a threat.

He said: “He plays the same position as me and it means someone is going to be missing out every week.

“I will train my hardest, I am sure everyone else will do the same and Mac (coach Brian McDermott) will pick what he sees at the best team.”

Jones-Bishop has retained his No 2 jersey despite Briscoe’s arrival, but a Boxing Day shake-up will see him start at full-back, which is his preferred position.

“It will be good to play there,” he admitted. “I haven’t done that for a long time.

“It will be good to see a new combination with Zak (Hardaker) and Sutty (Liam Sutcliffe) in the halves and some other young boys are getting a chance to play.

“With the squad we have got at the moment it rotates pretty well, most of us can play more than one position and it is good to have more strings to your bow.

“People look at me and say I am a winger because I have played two or three seasons at Leeds on the wing, but before that I was probably thought of as more of a full-back, when I went to London [on loan].

“It is where I would play if I had a choice, but I am just happy as long as I am playing.”

McDermott has already made it clear he wants Jones-Bishop to remain at Leeds beyond the end of his current deal.

Jones-Bishop accepts the uncertainty over his future will make 2014 a big year, but he said: “The setback last season was tough. I just want to enjoy what I do and make the most of I am here to do.”

His appearance on Boxing Day will give Jones-Bishop an early chance to stake a claim as a starter for Leeds’ opening Super League fixture at Hull KR on February 16.

“It will also see him and his team-mates go up against former colleagues Richard Moore and Paul McShane, who joined Wildcats in the off-season.

Jones-Bishop predicted some on-field banter and added: “They are both very good players, but at Leeds it is tough to get a run of games.

“It [joining Wildcats] will be good for Macca, it will give him chance to play week-in and week-out, which he’s proved in previous loan spells he is capable of doing.

“They have got a lot of other ex-Leeds lads in their side and it will be good to see them all.

“We are taking it seriously, you can’t do anything half-hearted because that’s when you get injured.

“Boxing Day gives young lads a chance to stake a claim with the internationals being away and everyone will want to give Mac something to think about.”

Ryan Hall.

England boss Bennett has a full squad to pick from