Corey Johnson: Leeds Rhinos talent back where he wants to be after Super League return

Now restored to the Leeds Rhinos fold, Corey Johnson is “back where I want to be”.

Monday, 13th September 2021, 6:00 am

The 20-year-old hooker was brought off off the bench in the second half of Leeds’ 40-6 defeat at St Helens three days ago and slotted in at acting-half in impressive style.

It was only his second Betfred Super League appearance, almost exactly two years after his debut in Rhinos’ final game of the 2019 campaign.

The England academy international quit rugby league the following pre-season, but made a comeback for Hunslet Club Parkside in the community game’s National Conference four months ago.

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Corey Johnson, right, with Rhinos' first-choice hooker Kruise Leeming. Picture by Phil Daly/Leeds Rhinos.

That eventually led to a new deal with Rhinos in July, though Johnson was immediately loaned to Championship outfit York City Knights to get some high-level match time under his belt.

After impressing at hooker and half-back, he was recalled by Leeds last week and drafted straight into the squad to face the reigning champions.

“Personally, it felt good to be back,” Johnson said of his return to the big time. “But as a team I think there’s stuff we can improve on and take from the game into this week.”

Rhinos coach Richard Agar is a big admirer of Johnson and has described his return as like making a new signing.

Despite the result at Saints, the player himself said it was “amazing” to be back.

“I don’t think you can put that feeling into words,” he said. “It felt like I am back where I want to be and what I want to be doing.”

The time away has helped Johnson regain his love for the sport.

“Without a doubt, definitely,” he stated. “My time at York has done me brilliantly and put me in good stead towards having a good pre-season going into next year. I feel I am ready to rip in and give it my all and see what I can achieve personally.”

Johnson also paid tribute to Parkside, one of the top clubs outside the professional ranks, for their part in his comeback.

“I think that’s what triggered my love and passion for the game, the competitive side of it, wanting to be better and improve,” he said.

An away fixture against Saints was a huge step up from what Johnson has experienced in the past, but he was pleased to get a taste of the action, even if it was a shock to his system. He admitted: “We don’t need to talk about my lungs! I was blowing, but I felt good.

“Personally, I am critical towards my own game, but it was good just to be among it again.”

Johnson’s return adds depth to Leeds’ squad in a pivotal role and they will have options at hooker next year as the youngster competes with Kruise Leeming and Brad Dwyer - the side’s top two try scorers so far this term - for the number nine slot.

“I think that’s only going to be a good thing, us three pushing each other,” Johnson predicted.

“I am going to have to really rip in because those two have absolutely killed it this year. I think it’s motivation for all three people, really.”

As for Rhinos as a team, the loss at Saints was a setback, though not a knockout blow, in their bid to qualify for the play-offs. They will still finish in the top-six if they beat Hull KR oon Friday, or Castleford Tigers lose to Warrington Wolves 24 hours earlier. Attention turned immediately to this week following the final whistle at TW Stadium.

Johnson said: “We just need to reflect on everyone’s own games personally, build into this week and hopefully have a really big week at training. We need to take the positives and turn the negatives into positives and have a really big game on Friday.”

Saints led 28-0 after 30 minutes, but Johnson reckons Rhinos can be buoyed by the way they steadied the ship after that.

“If we can start well and perform like we did in the second half in the first, then the energy of the game changes totally and it could have been a different result,” he insisted.

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