FRONT-ROW FORWARD Ian Kirke will miss the start of Leeds Rhinos’ Super League campaign after undergoing surgery on a rib injury.
Kirke, who sat out just one game last season, will be sidelined until at least early March.
The news is a blow to Rhinos who have already lost former Hunslet Hawks prop Andy Yates due to an Achilles injury.
Kirke started just three games last term, but was on the bench for another 29 and is only four appearances short of 200 for the club.
He was ruled out of Rhinos’ Boxing Day clash with Wakefield because of the injury and boss Brian McDermott said hopes it would heal naturally have been dashed.
“He’s had an operation on his rib,” said the team boss.
“He had a plate put on his rib last week which means he’s going to be out for anywhere between six and eight weeks.
“It is unfortunate for Kirkey, but it’s something that needed doing.
“He carried his rib for the majority of last year and certainly in the last third of the year he was in some discomfort.
“After a few weeks’ rest the bones still hadn’t fused together as we would have liked, so he’s had a plate put across the joint.
“He has got a bit of a bionic rib at the moment, which is going to be good for him long-term, but at this moment he is looking at at least six weeks out.”
With Yates still unavailable Rhinos are down to four fit specialist props in their 25-man senior squad.
Veterans Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai are both set to feature in Ryan Bailey’s testimonial game at home to London Broncos on Friday, January 31.
Bailey, who missed the Boxing Day game due to an Achilles problem, could be a contender for Sunday’s Lazenby Cup tie at Hunslet Hawks as he bids to gain match fitness ahead of the Super League kick-off away to Hull KR on February 16.
Fellow prop Brad Singleton is available after being suspended on Boxing Day and Mitch Achurch and Chris Clarkson are also possible front-row options after playing there against Wakefield.
Yates was hurt during a training session in November and is well into his recovery, but will be sidelined until late spring at the earliest.
“He has got the [protective] boot off and he’s still staring down the barrel of about four months.
“But we’re hoping to knock a couple of weeks off that,” McDermott said.
“He is a good trainer and he’s been very professional so far in everything he’s done, so we have fingers crossed for him.”
McDermott has ruled long-term casualty Stevie Ward out of this weekend’s annual fixture at South Leeds Stadium.
The stand-off/second-row has not played since suffering a dislocated shoulder in a win at Hull KR last April.
McDermott said: “Because of the history with Stevie, we are going to go really cautious with him.
“If we had to force him to play I think he would put his hand up and play. He’s clearly not ready yet, but he’s close.
“Because of the injuries he’s had over the last 18 months we are going to make sure we dot the i’s and cross the t’s.
“He may be available for round one, but we are not going to rush him.”
Of Leeds’ other casualties, McDermott added: “Jimmy Keinhorst has been passed fit to play after his dislocated shoulder and he’s now plying his trade [on loan] at Wakefield.
“James Duckworth, who did have a bit of a hamstring strain, has been passed fit and he’s now down with London on loan.”
Brett Delaney has a minor calf problem, but is expected to be fit for the start of the season.