LEEDS RHINOS will face Wigan Warriors in tomorrow’s top of the table battle without a specialist hooker in their squad.
Coach Brian McDermott has decided against calling academy star Robbie Ward into his initial 19, despite the loss of Paul Aiton due to a broken arm.
Robbie Ward has been playing on dual-registration for Hunslet Hawks, but was pulled out of their squad last week in order to make him eligible for Rhinos.
But McDermott is set to start with Burrow in the acting-half role tomorrow, though Kevin Sinfield could also operate there.
Stevie Ward, who has missed five games due to an ankle injury, has been recalled to the squad, along with fellow back-rower Mitch Achurch.
Achurch has been sidelined since Rhinos’ Magic Weekend loss to Wigan, at the end of May, following surgery on a wrist injury.
Brett Delaney is struggling with a persistent hamstring problem, but has been included in the 19 and Josh Walters is in contention for a recall.
Aiton underwent surgery on Monday and will be sidelined for around six weeks, meaning he is unavailable for the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup showdown with Hull KR in 16 days’ time.
Robbie Ward could come into contention next week away to Hull, if McDermott opts to rest key players ahead of the Cup final.
The 19-year-old said he is upset at Aiton’s injury, but is hoping it will give him a chance to play at the top level after just two substitute appearances this term.
“I am gutted for Paul, because he has been outstanding for us this year,” Ward said.
“I wouldn’t wish an injury on anybody, especially my own team-mate, but it has happened and we’ve got to deal with it now.
“I have waited all year for an opportunity, so hopefully this is my chance to prove to Mac and the other boys that I can play.”
Ward insisted he will be ready if he gets a call during Aiton’s layoff. “My form’s been a bit of a mix this year,” he added. “I thought I started really well, but then I got injured – I did my ankle ligaments – and I’ve been up and down a bit.
“I was playing, then missing a few weeks, playing at Hunslet and playing in the 19s, so it’s been up and down, but the last few games I feel like I’ve been playing well and I’ve got a bit of confidence from it.
“If I get picked the other boys will help me. We are a really tight bunch and I have been training (with the first team).
“It will be a big step up, but I feel welcome and I know all the systems.”
Ward is out of contract at the end of this season. He said: “We’ve spoken, but I’ve not signed anything.”
Aiton last week announced he will join Catalans Dragons on a three-year next season.
Rhinos are being linked with Manly Sea Eagles’ Australian hooker Matt Ballin as Aiton’s replacement.