Mitch Achurch says the Rhinos will improve this term thanks to a tough pre-season and a couple of new signings. Peter Smith reports.
LEEDS RHINOS need to move up a gear this season, according to Aussie forward Mitch Achurch.
“I think we’ve stepped up a little bit from last year,” Achurch said ahead of tomorrow’s trip to Hunslet Hawks.
“I think we all know we need to go to another level to compete with some of the teams that were too good for us last year.
“It has been a big focus for us this pre-season to get a lot fitter and I think we’ve done that. It has been pretty tough.”
Rhinos’ England contingent reported in at the start of the month and Achurch added: “Before that we were just sort of concentrating on fitness and trying to get the metres back in our legs.
“As soon as they came back the structures and everything came back into the way we train. It has been good and we’ve started to work on a few teams things rather than just individual things.”
Having so many players report in late was not ideal, but Achurch feels six weeks together is long enough to get ready for the First Utility Super League opener at Hull KR on February 16.
“We are pretty lucky we didn’t have too many players joining the squad or leaving the squad,” he observed.
“We have only got a couple joining and they have caught on really quick. The England boys know what they are doing so as soon as they came back everything started clicking and we were back on track.”
Hooker Paul Aiton and winger Tom Briscoe are Rhinos’ two recruits and Achurch said: “Having Tom here, the idea was to create a bit of competition in the backline and it has definitely done that.
“I think they have stepped up a bit at training this year and Paulie coming in, we all know what he can do.
“He is a tackling machine and that’s something we need in the middle. It has been good and I think they are good acquisitions for the team.
“We’ve pretty much got an England backline at the moment.
“It doesn’t guarantee wins, but it is pretty reassuring when the ball goes over your head as a forward that you’ve got the three best players in the competition in those positions bringing it back for us.
“We’ve got to do our job in the middle, hopefully they will do their job and everything will work out.”
Achurch admitted he hasn’t kept a close eye on what other teams have been doing in the off-season.
“I need to sort my own game out first,” he said.
“But I am sure the coaching staff have noted what’s going on and we are still very confident that no one can match it with us on our day.”
Personally, Achurch is hoping to make a mark this term, his second in Super League.
He made four starts and another 20 appearances off the bench last term, but was held back by a serious knee injury suffered in July which kept him out for most of the rest of the campaign.
“I have had a year to settle in and everything and now I know what I am up against,” he said.
“I have attacked this pre-season with a bit more vigour than last year and I know what I need to get right.
“It has started off well and hopefully I can continue. Mission number one is just getting in the team and hopefully come round one I will get that and then kick on from there.
“Last year just as I started to get the hang of it again and my place in the team started to be cemented, I got injured.
“That threw me back a bit, but I fought hard when I was injured to get back on the pitch and be fit enough to play in the finals.
“When I came back I thought I contributed as much as I could and I wasn’t too disappointed with the way I finished the year.
“For me it is just a matter of getting some consistency. Fitness is a hard thing to get when you are 110kgs and 6ft 5. Once I get fit it’ll be a case of keeping it.”
That quest will continue tomorrow when Achurch lines up away to Hunslet Hawks – the team he played four games for on dual-registration last year – in the Lazenby Cup (2pm).
“Last year I put my hand up to play,” he recalled. “I got sin-binned in the Boxing Day game and wasn’t real happy with the way I played, so I wanted to play against Hunslet.
“I have done it again and there’s a few more of us first teamers playing this time than last year, which is good.
“You can do as much running as you like in pre-season, but game fitness is what we need.”
Achurch is hoping to be a regular for Rhinos this year, but stressed he’ll be happy to return to Hunslet if not.
“They will come out to win it,” he said of tomorrow’s clash. “Their head coach Barry Eaton is someone I got along with last year and he has been spending a bit of time with us.
“He knows how we work and I am sure they will have been training pretty hard and they’ll come out firing.
“I hope they have a good season. It’s not ideal if you are not playing in the first team to drop back two divisions and as a team it has got to be a bit of a goal of ours to make sure Hunslet can progress back up this year.
“For me I am hoping I am in the first team, but if not I will go back and do my best for Hunslet.”