Leeds Rhinos half-backs providing Callum McLelland with competition - and an education in play-making
AS MUCH as the fight for half-back places at Leeds Rhinos is competitive, it is also educational for aspiring youngster Callum McLelland.
He is the least experienced of the quartet of playmakers all striving to earn one of the two spots in Richard Agar’s side next season.
Nevertheless, as his displays showed for England Academy and, more strikingly, during Featherstone Rovers’ promotion push last term, the 20-year-old is certainly talented.
Ex-Man of Steel Luke Gale, who started in England’s 2017 World Cup final appearance and was bought from Castleford Tigers recently, is the likely No 7 with former NRL star Robert Lui, who joined from Salford Red Devils in June, his most obvious partner.
But McLelland and Richie Myler, the 29-year-old who represented England barely 12 months ago, will give Agar plenty of food for thought.
“The competition’s really good and it’s not just the competitive side either,” said McLelland, who made his Rhinos debut against Workington Town in the Challenge Cup in April.
“It’s learning from them. Obviously Robbie (Lui) has been over in Australia most of his career and is now here. He’s experienced and has taught me a lot.
“Galey I was with at Castleford and now here.
“He brings a lot of experience and so does Richie (Myler). They’ve had a taste of international rugby.
“It’s great for me every day to be competing with and learning from them.”
Highly-rated McLelland, who also played for Bradford Bulls and Castleford Tigers before switching to Featherstone in June, forgets to mention he has his own international experience, too.
The Pontefract-born stand -off made a try-scoring Scotland debut during October’s 86-0 thrashing of Serbia and added another two in the 42-24 success over Greece.
“I enjoyed it,” said McLelland, who had played for Scotland rugby union’s Under-20s side before moving to back to West Yorkshire 16 months ago.
“It was obviously different to playing club; you were playing with players you’d only trained with for a couple of weeks. But I thoroughly enjoyed it and we ended up qualifying for the (2021) World Cup, which was our main goal.
“That’s great for Scotland and now it’s about building on that for the World Cup.”
But McLelland, who came through Castleford Tigers’ academy before his brief switch to union with Edinburgh, has not ruled out one day playing for the country of his birth.
Obviously, after his return to league with Leeds, he impressed in England Academy’s series victory over Australian Schoolboys last winter
“It’s a difficult one,” he said, when asked what he might do further down the line.
“England is obviously a tier-one country and Scotland is a tier two. Don’t get me wrong, I do love my heritage, but I do also have England heritage as well. And I am English. I can do both.
“It depends at the time and who’s in front but also if I get picked. It’s quite a long way away yet but I’m looking forward to it. Hopefully I’ll be there (with Scotland in 2021) if selected but we’ll have to see what happens.”
Knowing who he will be playing for is a similar topic at club level. There had been speculation about moving to a Super League rival on a season-long loan and, of course, he excelled in his 11 games for Featherstone as they reached the Championship Grand Final in Toronto.
McLelland said: “No, as far as I know I’m playing at Leeds at the minute. That’s my goal, trying to grab a squad shirt and play the first few rounds. If not, it’s just waiting for the opportunity to come and if it doesn’t end up coming then obviously we’ll have to look at where I’ll be playing elsewhere either on loan or dual-reg or reserves but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. And I loved my time at Featherstone last season. We’ll have to see what happens.”