Leeds Rhinos have hard work ahead - but James Donaldson says Huddersfield Giants hit-out was 'great lesson' for Super League

Leeds Rhinos' hard-working forward James Donaldson says there are good signs for the new season, but much hard work to be done over the next week and a half.

By Peter Smith
Thursday, 18th March 2021, 10:01 am

Rhinos lost 22-16 at Huddersfield Giants three days ago in their only full-scale hit-out before the Betfred Super League round one derby against Wakefield Trinity at Emerald Headingley on Saturday, March 27.

Leeds used 20 players - including nine aged 22 or younger - and were without their first-choice centres and half-backs and two of their top-three front-rowers.

Their makeshift side went 22-4 down after 53 minutes before rallying to almost snatch a draw in the closing stages and Donaldson reckons - despite the result - the game was exactly what Rhinos needed after a four-month layoff.

James Donaldson is tackled by James Cunningham during last Sunday's game. Picture by Tony Johnson.

“It was good to get back to it,” Donaldson said.

“Obviously things were going to be a little bit rusty in the first hit-out, but it was a great lesson for us as to where we are at and where we need to improve and what to work on to make sure we are firing come round one.”

Of the four tries Rhinos conceded, one was from a kick and another came off an interception.

They were under heavy pressure on their line for long spells and Donaldson said: “It was definitely a good start, defensive-wise, but I think there’s a lot of areas we need to fix up.

Matt Prior is expected to return to be available for Super League round one after missing the warm-up game at Huddersfield. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.

“We need to start winning a few more rucks, but for the first hit-out, to get back out there and blow the cobwebs off was a big thing for us.”

Donaldson identified the experience gained by young players - including 17 years olds Levi Edwards and Morgan Gannon who have stepped straight up from the scholarship into the senior squad - as another positive.

Jack Broadbent had an outstanding match, starting in the centres before shifting to full-back when Ash Hanbdley was injured and second-rower Sam Walters, also 20, was another rookie whose performance suggested he is knocking on the door for a Super League call up.

“It was a great game to see where you’re at and where you really need to improve on,” Donaldson added.

“These young boys have done a great job in pre-season, the majority of them have really kicked on and stepped up.

“To get a chance the other day was a reward for their hard work through pre-season and as we can see, the future is definitely bright for the young boys coming through.”

Leeds are now in the fine-tuning stage of pre-season and Donaldson stressed “all eyes are on round one”.

He said: “It’s a case of keep working hard, head down and keep working on what we need to improve on.

Injuries will have a bearing, but coach Richard Agar is likely to select a much-changed side for the derby against Wakefield.

Donaldson said: “We will work extra hard on that and be trying to get those combinations going and build for that opening game.

“That is massive, building into it nicely so we are ready to hit the ground running come that Wakey game.”

Donaldson made a rare start last weekend, at prop.

Though mainly known as a back-rower, he filled in there at times last year - most often as an impact player off the bench - and insisted he is happy to play in the middle if needed.

The 29-year-old, in the final season of his two-year contract, insisted: “Anywhere in the forwards, front-row and loose-forward, there is not much difference between them these days.

“I am just happy to be playing, no matter where they put me in the team.

“Obviously, I am not the biggest middle, but I try to make up for it with energy and enthusiasm.

“Wherever Rich wants to play me, I will try to play my best footy.”

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