Leeds Rhinos' Cameron Smith makes defiant pledge for Magic Weekend derby v Castleford Tigers amid injury woes
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Rhinos will go into Saturday’s Magic Weekend derby against Castleford Tigers without centre Harry Newman, stand-off/second-row Morgan Gannon and scrum-half Aidan Sezer who were all hurt in the first half of last week’s loss to St Helens.
Forward Zane Tetevano has completed a two-match ban, but is ruled out through illness and two other first-choice players, wing David Fusitu’a and prop Sam Lisone remain on the injury list.
Two of Rhinos’ initial 21-man squad, Alfie Edgell and Leon Ruan, have yet to make their Betfred Super League debut, Luke Hooley has played just a single top flight game and Luis Roberts has five appearances in the competition.
Adversity is mounting for Rhinos, who have lost four of their last five games, but Smith is confident they will cope.
He pledged: “We have got strength in depth and when a player leaves the squad, somebody is coming in to do a job.
“Everyone’s striving for a spot and we always seem to be playing with people missing, so it is something we are used to.
“It will reward us later down the line, the young kids who are coming in and getting a taste of what it is like being around the 21-man squad.”
Tetevano has been stood down “indefinitely” and Newman, Gannon and Sezer are all set for a long spell off the field.
Newman’s hamstring injury, set to keep him out of action for up to 12 weeks, is the latest setback in a run of bad luck since he suffered a broken leg in 2020.
“It is a real tough one because I know he has worked so hard to get back playing,” Smith said.
“He has been really conscious of ticking every box to make sure he can perform every week. He has had a number of good weeks, he played really well against Wigan away and it is just one of those things. I do feel for him.”
Leeds were in danger of also being without second-rower James McDonnell on Saturday after he was suspended for two games following his sending-off against Saints.
But the penalty notice was overturned on appeal and Smith described that as a “big boost for us”.
He said: “He has been playing awesome. He gives us that bit of grit and toughness on an edge and I have been really impressed with Macca since he came to the club, as a person and a player.”
Tigers have problems of their own, sitting second from bottom in the table with just two wins from 14 competitive games this year.
But one of those victories was at home to Rhinos in March and Smith knows his hometown club always raise their game when they play Leeds.
“We were our own worst enemies,” Smith said of the 14-8 defeat at the Jungle. “I feel like we’ve come a long way from that point in the season.
“We have come up short a couple of weeks on the trot, but there’s no lack of belief or will to win. We will be more than ready to have a crack on Saturday.
“They will be talking about us falling short the last couple of weeks and they’ve not been playing great, but they’ll be up for this one and we’ve got to match that and put our best foot forward.”
Rhinos have won their last three Magic Weekend fixtures and Smith could lead them into battle at Newcastle’s St James’s Park.
Rhinos do not have a full-time captain, but Smith has taken the duty in recent matches and insisted: “Any chance I get to do that is a privilege.”
He stressed: “It’s not necessarily just about me being captain, it is about me encouraging other people to bring their leadership roles to the team as well.
“I am enjoying my footy at the minute and I feel like we are going to hit our straps now and kick on.”
Smith is ever-present this year and has been one of Rhinos’ most consistent performers in a team which has been up and down at times.
“I just want to keep building game on game and doing my bit for the team,” he added. “As long as I am doing my role, hopefully I can have an influence of getting more wins.
“I can only do my job if everyone around me is working hard for the team and so as long as we do that, I think we’ll be okay.”