FORMER TEST front-rower Keith Galloway admits this year has been a learning curve for him and Leeds Rhinos.
Galloway has played in 26 of Rhinos’ 27 games, all but one of his appearances coming in the starting front-row.
With Leeds missing out on the top-eight and finding themselves in a battle against relegation, it hasn’t been the sort of season the former Wests Tigers man – who played five times for Australia in 2011 – was expecting when he joined the club last autumn.
But he reckons he has learned a lot and the experiences gained this year will stand him – and his team-mates – in good stead for next term.
“Obviously we started slow,” Galloway reflected.
“We have had a pretty tough year.
“I am just trying to do my job. It is easier when we are winning games, but this year has been a real good learning curve for me.
“I’ll be better for it. It has been a tough year, but I’m sure I’ll learn from these experiences.
“They are making me stronger and they’ll be good for me in the future.”
Rhinos are facing another new challenge today when they make their first trip to London Broncos’ latest home at Ealing Trailfinders.
Last year’s treble winners will be hot favourites for a third straight win in the First Utility Qualifiers, but Galloway said London’s performance six days ago – when they thrashed Batley Bulldogs 76-16 – was a timely warning for Leeds.
Broncos have shown massive improvement this season under coach Andrew Henderson, a former Castleford Tigers captain.
After a disappointing seventh place in the Kingstone Press Championship last year and being embarrassed 36-4 by Featherstone Rovers in the Shield final, they finished as runners-up to Leigh Centurions on the table this term.
They pushed Leigh all the way in the opening round of the Qualifiers before being pipped 34-30, but got off the mark by running in 14 tries against the team who finished just one place below them on the Championship ladder.
The result against Batley was a warning to Leeds and Galloway said: “They put on a big score.
“We are going to have to go there and bring our A game to beat them.
“We know it isn’t going to be easy. They have got some good players in that London squad so if you go in half-heartedly they can embarrass you.
“We are going down there to their home ground and I am sure they are going to be competitive.”
London’s squad has been rebuilt since their last season in Super League two years ago when they won only one game, at home to Rhinos.
Ben Hellewell, whose past clubs include Featherstone Rovers and Dewsbury Rams, has had a big season in the centres and another former Featherstone man Jack Bussey has impressed at loose-forward.
Ex-Leeds prop Jamie Thackray gives London vast experience in the pack, both wingers – Iliess Macani and Rhys Williams – scored a hat-trick last week and Aussie Mark Ioane has been building a name for himself in the front-row. But the main dangerman is scrum-half Jamie Soward, who scored a try and 10 conversions against Batley.
Soward, now in his second spell at London, starred for New South Wales in 2011 – when Galloway played alongside him in his only State of Origin appearance – and has more than 200 NRL games under his belt.
“He is obviously very experienced,” Galloway warned. “He has been in the NRL for a long time and I know what he’s capable of. He’s a dangerous player, but I am sure there’s more to the London Broncos than him.”
Despite London’s threats, Rhinos should be too strong if they maintain the sort of form shown over the past two months.
A run of seven wins from their last eight games will send them into today’s clash in confident mood, but Galloway admitted they dropped below recent standards in last week’s nervy 24-20 home win over Hull KR.
“They scored a few tries which we should have stopped,” he conceded. “But overall our defence has been strong. Our attack let us down a bit last week, but if we can get our attack in order and keep our defence strong we will go a long way towards winning the game.
“The past couple of months we have won pretty much most of our games, which is a far cry from earlier in the year.
“It is just a shame it has taken us so long to hit form, but it is what it is and whatever’s in front of us we’ve just got to take each week as it comes and go out and get the win.”
As an Australian in his first year of Super League, Galloway is still coming to terms with the Super-8s format.
“It’s different,” he said.
“I am all for teams that are in the division below being promoted if they are good enough to be in Super League.
“I know in the Super-8s there’s a couple of teams who aren’t capable of making the semis so it’s a bit of a waste for teams like that, but we haven’t played well enough so we deserve to be in these Qualifiers.”