Fixture pile up - bring it on says Leeds Rhinos youngster

A backlog of matches could provide the breakthrough Leeds Rhinos’ next generation have been waiting for, 20-year-old half-back Callum McLelland reckons.

By Peter Smith
Saturday, 16th May 2020, 6:00 am
Callum McLelland made his Betfred Super League debt against his hometown club Castleford Tigers last year. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.
Callum McLelland made his Betfred Super League debt against his hometown club Castleford Tigers last year. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.

Young and fringe players are likely to be given a chance if clubs have to play three games each week to complete the full Betfred Super League season.

Unless the number of fixtures is reduced, Rhinos will have 24 league games and at least one Coral Challenge Cup tie to fit in once the sport returns from its coronavirus shutdown.

That pile-up would put a huge strain on players and mean full squads being used as coaches attempt to prevent first-choice stars burning out.

Callum McLelland believes Muizz Mustapha has a big future at Leeds Rhinos. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.

With stand-off Rob Lui having turned 30 this year and scrum-half Luke Gale celebrating his 32nd birthday next month, Leeds coach Richard Agar would not be expected to field his two senior pivots in every match.

McLelland is next in line, with Richie Myler another option in the pivots.

McLelland made his first Rhinos appearance of the season in their final game before the shutdown, a 66-12 thrashing of Toronto Wolfpack on March 5 and believes there are two sides to the possible pile-up.

“It is a negative for our bodies, but a positive for all the young lads who are yet to make their debut and yet to show what they can do,” he said.

Callum McLelland could get a chance if coach Richard Agar decides to rotate his half-backs - including Luke Gale, pictured against Toronto - during a fixture pile-up. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.

“In that respect it will be a great opportunity for us all and hopefully stand us in good stead for the next few years.”

Agar has made no secret of the fact he will give young players a shot when the time is right.

McLelland insisted: “We have got a very talented group of youngsters.

“At other clubs they would probably have made their debut and played a bit for them, but the way Leeds were playing and the group of guys we’ve got, it is hard to break through.

“If it does happen and we are playing three games a week, it will be great for the young lads – to name a few, people like Tom Holroyd, Muizz [Mustapha], Sam Walters, Jarrod O’Connor, the list goes on.”

The government this week confirmed sport may be allowed to return, behind closed doors, from next month and for McLelland, Super League’s resumption can’t come soon enough.

“It is a bit frustrating,” the former Castleford Tigers academy player admitted of the unwanted layoff.

“Everyone loves a little break, a week maybe, but not this long.

“I think it’s starting to eat away at a few people, but there’s a bigger thing to think about at the minute and hopefully everyone’s on the same page and sticking to the rules.”

For players in a team sport, training alone is far from ideal.

“There’s only so much you can do by yourself, training at home," McLelland admitted.

“It is hard to keep motivated when everything’s up in the air, but you’ve just got to keep going.

"Everyone’s in the same boat. I am just setting little goals, similar to when I am at training.

"There’s things to tick off during the day, week and month as well. I keep setting goals and once you have met them there’s a feeling of accomplishment.”

Rhinos’ squad can't meet face-to-face, but have been staying in contact through social media.

McLelland stressed: “We are quite a close bunch, that’s a really good thing about us.

"We’ve kept in touch throughout, making sure everyone’s all right. It’s like being in the environment, but obviously we can’t speak to each other properly.”

The rout of Toronto was Leeds’ fourth successive win - their best run since 2017 - and they were third in the table when the shutters came down.

McLelland is confident they can pick up from where they left off when rugby restarts.

He said: “It’s the same group of players so there’s no reason why not – and obviously we will all be more highly motivated than ever.”

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