Leeds Rhinos forward relishing 'good challenge' at Super League leaders St Helens
It is a tough assignment, but Leeds Rhinos second-rower Bodene Thompson prefers to look on tonight’s game against St Helens as a “good challenge”.
The hosts are unbeaten in Betfred Super League since the coronavirus shutdown and crushed Leeds 48-0 at Emerald Headingley in August.
Rhinos - in the first of what could be six games in 17 days - will field a makeshift side as coach Richard Agar rests most of the team which won the Coral Challenge Cup at Wembley last weekend.
Saints are close to full-strength, but Thompson insisted: “I think it is a good challenge, leading up to what’s going to be a tight couple of weeks trying to get into the top-four.
“It’s a good opportunity for whoever takes to the pitch to show some form and really have a dig against one of the top teams.”
Thompson played in an inexperienced Rhinos side against Catalans Dragons and Warrington Wolves in the weeks leading up to the Challenge Cup semi-final and final. Some of those players will get another run out tonight - and possibly over the next two weeks - and Thompson is confident they will give a good account of themselves.
“We were in both of those games up to the 60-minute mark,” he recalled. “Against both Catalans and Warrington they got late tries, but for 60 minutes they [the young players] were outstanding.
“You could not ask for a better effort from the young fellas. It’s good for them, getting that experience and they have to make sure they learn from it, the last 20 minutes.
“In those grinding games you’ve just got to stay in it and dig deep and eventually we will get a win. I think it is a good learning curve for them and exciting for the club as well because there’s some exciting players among the young boys coming through.”
Rhinos back up against Castleford Tigers at Headingley on Monday and then return to St Helens three days later to face Wakefield Trinity. The following Sunday they take on Trinity again, at Mobile Rocket Stadium, Belle Vue, before facing Castleford four days after that, also at Headingley. It is the most punishing schedule since Super League began 24 years ago, but Thompson is not looking that far ahead.
“I haven’t seen it,” he said of the fixture list. “All I know is we have got Saints and Castleford. I am not looking past this weekend, but I know there is only a two-day turnaround so you have got to be smart with how you train during the week and make sure recovery is top-notch, because you need to be as fit as possible and as recovered as possible. Recovery is the key at the moment.”
Thompson joined Leeds from Toronto Wolfpack in August, on a short term deal until the end of this season. Having played for Wolfpack in their Challenge Cup win over Huddersfield Giants before lockdown, he was ineligible for Wembley. Only the 21 players in the match squad were allowed into the stadium and Thompson said: “I watched from home, cheering the boys on.
“I am so happy they got the win. Salford hang around in games and they’ve clutched those last two [Cup] games they played in, they didn’t lead for very long, but they got through. It was edge of your seat kind of stuff, but great for the boys they got it done.”
Other than when he was Cup-tied, Thompson has been a regular in Rhinos’ side and reflected: “It has been good, I was just grateful for the opportunity just to add a bit of experience and depth to the squad.
“I am grateful for every game I get and to be at such a good club. It is awesome, all the boys work hard, the young boys are humble and they do their job and dig deep and there’s no one with big heads.
“No one’s above anyone else, they are just a good bunch of lads who want to work hard for each other. The first week I came in was after the Saints game and they said they were going to ramp up the training because a few had come back after Covid a bit under-done.
“Ever since that day everyone has worked hard and I love the fact the coaches crack the whip and we get down to business. It all comes from training, what you do at training will reflect what you do on game day.”
Toronto’s future is still unresolved after they withdrew from this season’s Super League and Challenge Cup competitions in July. Of where he will be next year, Thompson said: “It is all up in the air at the moment, just a waiting game to see what’s happening with Toronto.”
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