TEENAGE FULL-BACK Ashton Golding has pledged to keep his feet on the ground, despite being the star of Leeds Rhinos’ pre-season.
Playing in Jamie Peacock’s testimonial game last weekend was another step forward for Golding, who is building a reputation as one of the country’s most exciting prospects.
The clash with Bradford Bulls was an important game for Rhinos, two weeks ahead of their opening Super League fixture and being their only full-scale warm-up match.
But with Zak Hardaker not yet fully recovered from illness, coach Brian McDermott had no hesitation in turning to 18-year-old Golding, in another indication of how highly he is regarded by Leeds’ backroom staff.
“It is always going to be an honour being on the same field as JP, especially in a big game like last Sunday,” Golding said.
“I was really pleased. I am just trying to progress little by little and see where I can end up at the end of the season.”
Peacock’s testimonial game was Golding’s seventh since the end of last season and he has shone in all of them.
He was man of the match for Rhinos under-19s in their loss to Australian Schoolboys last December, then played in both England academy’s Tests against the same opposition, being named the outstanding player in the secong game of the series, which his side won.
Australia’s management singled Golding out as a player to watch in the future and he backed that up with impressive displays for Rhinos against Wakefield Trinity Wildcats on Boxing Day, against USA Pioneers during the senior squad’s Florida training camp, in the Lazenby Cup win over Hunslet Hawks and again last weekend.
“The opportunities I’ve been given are giving me a big bungy jump forward,” said Golding, who is hoping to feature in Sunday’s final trial game, away to Doncaster. “It is helping me, playing with quality players – because then my game has to improve.”
With only 24 players in the full-time squad and 25 places booked on the trip to Florida, Rhinos’ coaching staff had a decision to make. They opted to take Golding as the only non full-time player on the trip and he said: “That was also a privilege. Every day seeing how the professionals do it and being able to mingle and change my lifestyle.”
Still a schoolboy, at Priesthorpe, in Pudsey, Golding had to ask permission from teachers before he could go. He confirmed: “I had to politely ask school if it was okay to go to Florida.
“It was a bit weird, but they seemed to be understanding and supportive. They are a really good school. It’s a sports college and they’ve done exactly what they said, they’ve pushed me through and always supported me and it shows.”
Things are happening quickly for Golding, who was last year’s academy player of the year, but he insisted there’s no danger of him getting carried away or starting to think he’s further down the track than he actually is.
He said. “I just stick with the same group of people and still try to work hard and push myself and try to better myself every week. In the games so far I have just been trying to do my job. There’s clearly things I need to improve on, but I will get to them in training and kick on.”
Golding made his Super League debut last year as a substitute in Leeds’ notorious loss to London Broncos.
With Hardaker – an England squad member – ahead of him in the pecking order, he said he is under no illusions about what could happen this term.
“I’ll be honest, I am focusing solely on the academy this year,” he said. “I want some silverware with the academy and my heart and soul is going into that.
“But if I get the call obviously I’m going to give it 110 per cent. I won’t be disappointed with another year in the academy. Where I’m at now, either is a great step forward for me.
He added: “A lot of hard work and training has gone into pre-season, but I am getting game time under my belt and I am really happy with that. I just want to continue that into the season.”
Golding has started all his pre-season games at full-back, but had a spell in the full-back role in America, when he also took over goal kicking duties.
“I have played at six a few times at my amateur club, Stanningley,” he said. “I wasn’t a stranger to it. That wasn’t too bad and it’s a bit of versatility in my game. At Stanningley I was goal kicker when (Rhinos academy scrum-half) Jordan Lilley broke his leg. I like it, I thrive off it.”