ENGLAND HALF-BACK Rob Burrow reckons Leeds Rhinos have the strongest squad in Super League.
Burrow and his England team-mates were beginning pre-season training today, a month and 10 days before Rhinos’ Super League opener at Hull KR.
Rhinos’ other players have been training since before Christmas, but the return of Burrow, Kevin Sinfield, Ryan Hall, Kallum Watkins and Carl Ablett – plus off-season recruit Tom Briscoe – means Leeds’ 2014 squad is together for the first time.
Assessing Leeds’ line-up for the new campaign, Burrow said: “We’ve got a good squad anyway and a strong squad.
“Keep everybody fit and I think it’s the strongest squad in the league. Add Paul Aiton, Tom Briscoe and Andy Yates and it goes from strength to strength.
“That’s what you want. You need to be able to replace three or four people at a time and we are going to be able to do that.”
Burrow is preparing for his 14th season in Rhinos’ full-time side, but the 31-year-old insisted he isn’t taking a place for granted.
The scrum-half/hooker has coached some of Leeds’ best young prospects in the lower grades and he reckons youngsters like Liam Sutcliffe, Alex Foster, Elliot Minchella, Thomas Minns and James Duckworth – who all made their debut last year – will be putting pressure on Rhinos’ senior players.
“They are a year further down the line, with a year’s more experience under their belt,” he said.
“They will be really chomping at the bit to get in there and keep us old guys on our toes.
“Liam Sutcliffe is a great half-back and he is going to be a fantastic player. He will be out to play more games this year and all us other half-backs are going to have to play well to keep our place.
“Competition for places is good and we’ve got that with the young lads coming through.”
Though his preferred role is at scrum-half Burrow has played most of his games under boss Brian McDermott as a starting hooker. Aiton’s arrival from Wakefield Trinity Wildcats adds more competition for that spot, but Burrow said he hasn’t yet spoken to the coach about where he will be playing this year.
“That’s something we’ll discuss when we get in,” said Burrow. “We’ve got six weeks or so to get the team sorted out.
“It is more competition for places and people play better when they’ve got that, so it will bring out the best in everybody.”
Burrow hasn’t played since England’s heart-breaking last-gasp World Cup semi-final defeat by New Zealand at Wembley on November 23 last year.
“You kind of wonder if you have long enough off,” Burrow said of today’s return to training.
“It is a long, hard season – but after a few weeks off you start to miss the lads and the craic and you want to get back in.
“I have been doing a bit at home and I am looking forward to getting back in.”
The number of players reporting back late from international duty puts Leeds behind some other clubs, who have already had their full squad together for a couple of months.
But Burrow said: “We’ve got long enough. In six weeks we will be in good shape, without being match-fit – you only get that by playing games.”