Leeds Rhinos boss Brian McDermott is tipping neighbours Hunslet Hawks to bounce back this year.
Hawks – Rhinos’ partner club – are gearing up for a season in the semi-professional game’s bottom tier, Kingstone Press Championship One, after being relegated last term
Rhinos visit South Leeds Stadium for the annual Lazenby Cup fixture tomorrow and McDermott revealed he admires the steps Hawks are making as a club.
“Last year was a tough one for them,” said McDermott, who has appointed Hawks boss Barry Eaton to a part-time role on Rhinos’ coaching staff.
“For any team that gets relegated there are some things that have got to be fixed up and addressed and some improvements to be made.
“But at the same time it has to be recognised that they went through a tough season and towards the back end they were well in every contest.
“They lost a few games by a few points here and there and the results of other teams didn’t go their way.
“It’s not a case that they were a poor team and that’s why they got relegated – they had a tough finish both on and off the field.”
The Leeds boss added: “The message is they are in good shape. The structure of the club is healthy, they have a good coach and a good coaching staff and they have recruited well.
“They have got a group of players who are keen and hungry and they are a club on a mission at the moment.”
The Lazenby Cup is chance for Hawks to bring in desperately-needed income and McDermott said playing a game there is a key part of Rhinos’ pre-season.
“We refer to them as our partner club, but that’s not just off the field,” he said. “It’s not just at the commercial level or in terms of the Foundation, it is on the field as well.
“Barry Eaton has done a lot of coaching with us in the off-season and I will be going over there - with our staff - and doing some coaching over there.
“There has been quite a bit of crossover of players and there will be again this year.
“We had a dual training session this week, training with them and we want to show we have a great relationship with Hunslet.
“It is a genuine partnership that is working both ways. We are getting as much out of it as they are getting out of us.”
Last year’s Lazenby Cup tie pulled in a crowd of 722, which was Hunslet’s joint third-best home gate of the season.
“I would hope our fans recognise that and get across to support the game and to have a look at the first teamers we have got playing,” McDermott said.
As well as raising cash for Hunslet, McDermott reckons tomorrow’s game is important in his preparations for the new campaign , which begins away to Hull KR in 22 days’ time.
Six senior players are included in Rhinos’ squad and the coach insisted the match is vital to give them game time ahead of First Utility Super League.
“Some of the people in our team don’t need as many friendlies,” he said. “They need one good hit-out and a few tough training sessions.
“But for others, they could do with a couple of games before we get going and a few of them have picked up niggles and injuries and haven’t been able to do the full pre-season, so this game is a great conditioning tool.”