TEENAGE prospect Zak Hardaker has a “good chance” of making his Engage Super League debut for Leeds Rhinos at home to St Helens.
The 19-year-old full-back/winger, pictured left, has been named in Rhinos’ initial 19 after being recalled from a loan spell at Featherstone Rovers. Leeds are struggling in the outside-backs, after Ben Jones-Bishop was ruled out of action for four months due to a dislocated shoulder suffered in the win over Salford City Reds.
Lee Smith – who missed last week’s game due to a hamstring tear – has been included in the 19, but faces a fitness test.
Coach Brian McDermott said Smith has a chance of playing, but could be out of action for a couple more weeks if he fails to prove his fitness.
Hardaker joined Rhinos last autumn on a five-year contract after scoring 22 tries in just 14 appearances for Rovers in 2010.
He was immediately loaned back to Featherstone, but played in some of Rhinos’ pre-season games and has continued to train with Leeds.
He played for Rhinos under-20s away to Warrington Wolves two weeks ago – when Rovers were in Challenge Cup action – and McDermott said: “He has been good in training and he has been going really well for Featherstone.
“It is timely that he is in confident mood at the moment. There’s a strong possibility he will play this week.
“We have got injuries with Bish down and Lee needing a check on his hamstring.
“He (Smith) has also got a chance of playing, but he could be out another two weeks if he is not right for Saturday.”
Ben Cross will return tomorrow after a one-match ban and fellow front-rower Luke Burgess – who missed the Salford romp due to a knee injury – is included in the 19.
McDermott said: “He is recovering now.”
Meanwhile, the Leeds boss is hopeful Jones-Bishop will return for the business end of the season and he reckons his prospects of playing for England in this autumn’s Four Nations have not been extinguished.
Jones-Bishop was hurt less than two weeks after being named in England’s elite training squad.
“He is going to need an operation,” McDermott confirmed. “He will be out for four months and that’s a blow for him and us.
“He is a potential international full-back and he may still play in the end-of-season series. He is still going to get two months of the season when he comes back.”
Rhinos full-back Brent Webb has been named Super League’s player of the round for his performance in the win over Salford seven days ago.
Team-mates Kallum Watkins and Kevin Sinfield were in the team of the round.