LAST WEEK’S first defeat of the season was a game Leeds Rhinos will want to forget, but for teenager Ashton Golding it was among the most memorable 80 minutes of his life.
Golding, 18, made his first Super League start in the 18-6 defeat at Warrington Wolves, seven months after his senior debut off the bench in last season’s loss away to London Broncos. He was told the day before the game he would be playing, when Rhinos’ management decided not to select Zak Hardaker during an investigation into an alleged assault in Leeds last month.
“There were no nerves, it was mainly excitement,” said Golding, who is regarded as one of Rhinos’ most promising young prospects. “I was really excited to get out there, to start the game and to get a feel for it throughout the 80 minutes. It was really enjoyable, obviously the result didn’t go our way, but personally, it was a good step in my development.”
Coach Brian McDermott praised Golding’s performance and the player himself said: “On attack I don’t think as a team we looked on point, but I had some goals before the game – one was to take every high ball and I felt I did that. I didn’t concede a 40-20 and that’s something, as a full-back you work on, so I was really pleased with that.”
Golding was the star of Rhinos’ pre-season. He played for England Academy in both Tests against Australian Schoolboys, being named man of the match in the second encounter which they won and was also chosen as most valuable player in Leeds under-19s’ loss to the same opponents.
He starred in the Boxing Day win over Wakefield Trinity Wildcats and was then selected to go with the senior squad to their training camp in Jacksonville, Florida, where he had a spell at stand-off in a trial game against local opposition. He also caught the eye in the Lazenby Cup win over Hunslet Hawks and Jamie Peacock’s testimonial against Bradford Bulls and was strongly tipped to get some first-team game time this season.
He admitted being picked for an away clash against Warrington was a case of being “thrown in at the deep end”, but added: “I was, I don’t want to say shocked because I don’t like to back against myself, but I was pleasantly surprised when I got the nod. It was something big for me. The game against London will stick with me forever and so will this one, for my full 80-minute debut.”
Golding has just returned to action after a several weeks’ break, to freshen him up after his efforts last winter and early this year. He explained: “I think I played seven games in pre-season.
“I didn’t get a chance to build muscle or develop speed so I had a three-week mini-pre-season just to build strength and speed. I came back against London (under-19s) and we beat them comfortably at their place, then got called up for Friday, raring to go.”
Rhinos’ management have yet to decide whether Hardaker will be considered for the visit of Wigan Warriors in four days’ time. Golding said: “I am always going to put myself forward. I am never not going to put my name in the hat, so whatever happens, happens.
“I am learning every day, rubbing shoulders with people like Kevin Sinfield and Jamie Peacock. They are teaching you little things that are going to help improve your game, even if it’s simple things like keep your head up.”
Golding is a sixth form student at Priesthorpe School, in Pudsey and is due to take ‘A’ Levels in physical education and applied science in June.
“It is going to be a big year, but I have been preparing for it for a while,” he said.