Leeds Rhinos' Bodene Thompson says spirits high ahead of Challenge Cup trip to St Helens - despite injury crisis
An away game against the Super League champions is a huge test at the best of times, but Leeds Rhinos are in a far from ideal situation ahead of tomorrow’s Betfred Challenge Cup tie.
With only two games played this year, injuries have decimated Rhinos’ full-time squad and the holders will be without at least nine players for the BBC-televised third round showdown with St Helens at TW Stadium.
None of their recent casualties has been included in coach Richard Agar’s initial squad and Kyle Eastmond, who has yet to make his debut after signing for Leeds last month, is not in contention.
Forward Bodene Thompson admits it is a difficult situation for Rhinos, but reckons they can take some confidence into the tie from the opening two games of the season.
“We have got a few injuries, but the last couple of weeks we have been doing all right with what we’ve had,” Thompson said.
“We’ve had a few backs out, but we are just trying to focus on what we can do and who we’ve got fit and what we can do with what we’ve been dealt.
“You can’t really control injuries and what happens on that front so we will just try to do the best we can with what we’ve got.”
Saints have not lifted the Challenge Cup since 2008, but are back to back Grand Final winners and Thompson admitted: “They are the benchmark team at the moment, though there’s a few teams that are up there.
“It will be a good challenge for us to see where we are at and make sure we can handle what’s coming our way.
“It is exciting for us and we can’t wait.”
Leeds lost 18-10 to Castleford Tigers a week ago after beating Wakefield Trinity 28-22 in their opening game of the season.
Thompson said: “There’s heaps of learning from the Wakey game and last week as well - a few better finishes to the end of our sets and putting them under a little bit more pressure in regards to turning the ball over in the right place and all that kind of thing.
“We felt we probably let them off the hook a few times at the back end of our sets so that is definitely something we will be looking to improve on this week.”
Thompson joined Rhinos, initially on loan, last August, but was Cup-tied after playing in Toronto Wolfpack’s win over Huddersfield Giants before lockdown.
Because the final was played behind closed doors with a strict limit on who could attend, he wasn’t allowed to travel to Wembley to see Leeds lift the trophy following a one-point win over Salford Red Devils.
“It’s exciting to get to play in the Challenge Cup this year,” he said.
“I was Cup-tied last year so couldn’t play with the boys.
“Because of Covid we could only take a certain number of players down there [to the final] so I had to watch it from home.”
Other than Cup ties, the New Zealander has been ever present since joining Rhinos and insisted he is “happy with the way things are coming along” this year.
“I am just finding my feet, playing a different role at the moment, off the bench in the middle,” he noted.
“I haven’t played there for eight years or so, so I am just trying to do my best and fill in where needed.
“I feel good, it’s sweet - you just have to get used to different timing and different calls of plays and positioning in defence.
“It is a bit of a different ball game, not too much, but a slight adjustment - you have got to learn the nicks and nacks of different positions.”
King Vuniyayawa is in contention for his debut and Jarrod O’Connor, Sam Walters and 17-year-old Morgan Gannon are also included in Leeds’ squad, along with last week’s matchday 17.
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