TEENAGE HALF-BACK Jordan Lilley is one of Leeds Rhinos’ kids in America – and he reckons a week there is perfect preparation for what could be a key year.
The 19-year-old Stanningley product is taking part in Rhinos’ pre-season camp in Jacksonville, north Florida, which includes a game against the United States national team on Sunday.
Lilley has featured in both Rhinos’ trial games so far and going away with the squad is another step on the learning curve.
“It is my first experience of going on camp with the first team,” Lilley said. “I am looking forward to the experience, learning off the players in the team and kicking on for the season.”
Lilley played four senior games last year and captained a young Leeds side in the 22-18 Lazenby Cup victory at Hunslet Hawks, where he had a spell on dual-registration in 2015, a week ago. A man-of-the-match performance reinforced Lilley’s claims for more first-team action and he admitted he is feeling the benefit of being able to devote himself fully to rugby. He said: “This is my first full-time pre-season, last year I was part-time and I made my debut and pushed on into the squad.
“This year I’ve made the 25-man squad and I am loving every minute of the full-time experience. Getting a squad number was fantastic, I was made up. Just to get in the squad means a lot to me and my family as well. It is massive for my dad, it is like giving him something back for all the hard work he has put in for me – going on the park at 6o’clock at night and kicking goals or passing. There are so many little things that nobody sees that he does for me and it is good to reward him back by doing the things I am doing on the pitch.”
Lilley revealed he is on course to match a schedule he set himself as a Rhinos-supporting youngster. He said: “When I was little I used to write little goals down. One of them was to make my debut when I was 18 and I did that, so that was one ticked off.
“I have got my little goals written down for this year and I want to be pushing on. It is good to look back and see what I’ve done and what I have still got to do and where I have got to get myself to.”
The target for 2016 is to continue learning and get more first-team game time. He added: “I have got a full-time deal and a squad number, so I have got to kick on and make it hard for Mac (coach Brian McDermott) to not put me in the squad. I want him to make decisions thinking ‘he played well last week’ or ‘he’s played well this week, so I am going to put him in and give him a shot’. When I get a shot I am not going to hold back. I will go in all guns blazing.”
With Kevin Sinfield having moved on and Rob Burrow and Danny McGuire both now at the veteran stage, Rhinos have begun the search for a new generation of half-backs. Lilley and Liam Sutcliffe have forced their way to the front of the queue, but the scrum-half insisted there is no danger of him getting carried away with progress made over the last 12 months.
“I have got loads to develop in my game,” he stressed. Physically I have got to develop and my speed and agility needs to improve. At the moment I am nowhere near where I want to be or the game I want to play.”