Young forward Josh Walters’ return to fitness is a boost for Leeds Rhinos, according to coach Brian McDermott.
Walters, now 20, scored three tries in nine senior appearances last year and was rewarded with the No 21 jersey for the 2015 campaign.
He began the season playing on dual-registration for Hunslet Hawks and has yet to feature for Rhinos, but McDermott confirmed he would have been called up by now but for an injury suffered during his stint in the Kingstone Press Championship.
Walters made his comeback for Hunslet in their win at Workington Town two days ago and McDermott said: “One player we have missed is Josh Walters.
“He would have played by now under normal circumstances, but he rolled his ankle a few weeks ago (playing for Hunslet) and he’s not been available.
“He would have come in and done a job, but those who have been in and around the team have overall done a fantastic job, so we are very fortunate in that regard.”
Meanwhile, McDermott reckons the young players who have featured this season are learning with every game, but will face more “challenges” as time goes on.
Rhinos are in a transition period as the team which won six Grand Final begins to break up and young players step forward to take over.
“Any young man can come in for a period and do well,” said the coach, whose side are four points clear at the top of the table, despite last week’s loss to Warrington Wolves.
“If we were to get a few more league points clear of the rest of the competition, then there’s pressure on us to continue winning and everyone wants to knock us off. That’s a different landscape and then you ask questions of the Ash Handleys and Liam Sutcliffes and Brad Singletons and those type of people as to whether they can handle this type of scenario.
“Then maybe you win and competition with these young fellas, then the next year it’s what are they like defending the competition?
“At the moment we are going well and those young fellas have stepped up really well in most games, but that is in a particular scenario.
“It’s not to say we don’t need to worry about anything else – there’s a fair few different challenges that lie ahead – even in this season itself.
“I don’t know when they will come or how they will come, but it’s likely the team will change and we’ll roll it around and we will need to to maintain form and consistency.”
Despite some impressive performances this year, McDermott denied his youngsters are ahead of schedule.
“I don’t think everything is as black and white as that,” he said. “You coach your juniors and the academy teams so that when they are hand picked they can do a job.
“That’s what it’s about, you don’t say ‘Ash Handley, you will play in such and such a game’. That’s the tough thing, if you did it would make everybody’s life easier, if they know when they are going to play.
“We are always, if you like, threatening our juniors with ‘this is the lifestyle you’ve got to lead, this is how skilful you’ve got to be, this is how fit you’ve got to be, because one day – and it might not be in the too distant future – somebody might come knocking on your door, saying we want you to play for us, are you in good shape for it’?
“Whether a player is ahead of schedule or not is not relevant, it’s are your juniors ready and is your academy in good shape to produce some juniors?”