GRAND FINAL winner Josh Walters admits there will be no excuses if Leeds Rhinos don’t hit the ground running this year.
Preparations for 2016 were hampered by flooding at Leeds’ Kirkstall training base and that took its toll as they won only three of their opening 19 games.
Walters reckons things have gone much more smoothly this time and he expects that to be reflected in results and performances when Betfred Super League begins next month.
“Last pre-season was a bit disrupted,” said the 22-year-old second-rower. “We didn’t realise how disrupted it was until halfway through the year, but this has been a good pre-season so far.
“Everyone seems to be ripping in and looking forward to the year. We know we’ve got to really step it up from what we delivered at the start of last year. We’re really looking to start big.”
Rhinos’ preparations suffered a setback in their opening pre-season game when they were crushed 30-6 by Wakefield Trinity.
“We know it wasn’t good enough,” Walters conceded. “We have assessed the whole game and what went wrong and what we should do better.
“At the end of the day it is what it is, that game has gone now and we’ve got to look forward. We’ve got to put in put a better performance in our next game and we will.”
Walters is hoping to figure again in the Harry Jepson OBE Memorial Cup tie against Hunslet at South Leeds Stadium on Sunday.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he said of the trip to Leeds’ Kingstone Press League One neighbours. “It doesn’t make a difference who you are playing, for us it is all good practice.
“You can do as much as you want in training, but it is hard to produce the intensity there is in games.
“Whoever you are playing, it’s good to get a run out.”
Walters made his Rhinos debut in 2014 and is preparing for his fourth season at Super-League level.
After scoring the crucial try in Leeds’ treble-clinching Grand Final win over Wigan two years ago, he was hampered by injuries in 2016 and finished the campaign on loan at Featherstone Rovers.
“I got a couple of injuries last year,” he recalled.
“I did my ankle and then fractured my cheek as well. The cheek kept me out for a couple of months.
“Before that I played more games than I’ve ever done. I know that was through injuries and we weren’t winning games, but for me it was good experience and it was good to get big minutes.
“At the back end of the year I went to Fev and that was really good experience for me, I really enjoyed that, working with [coach] Jon Sharp. Again, we didn’t get the best results, but for me it was about playing rugby.
“I played four games there and managed to get over the line a few times and put in some good performances. Hopefully I can use what I learned at Fev and bring it back here for the new season.”