Leeds Rhinos prospect Max Simpson reveals good news after season-long layoff, makes 'better than before' vow
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The 20-year-old centre featured in last year’s Boxing Day game against Wakefield Trinity, but ruptured an anterior cruciate ligament [acl] in training a few weeks later and has not played since.
That was a cruel blow for Simpson who impressed in four first team games during 2022 before his campaign was ended by ankle damage in a Betfred Super League defeat at Toulouse Olympique in July.
But Rhinos showed their faith in the Leeds-born prospect by offering him a new contract midway through his layoff and he has pledged to repay them by being “better than I was before” when he gets back on the field.
“I’m not a million miles off now,” Simpson confirmed of his return to action. “I am aiming to be fully back in training around January time and I should be back [available] for the start of the season.
“I am aiming for one of the later pre-season games. Obviously I don’t know what that will look like in terms of minutes, because you have unlimited subs and whatnot, so I suppose it depends on how well I am travelling in training. But hopefully I get one of the last pre-season games.”
The injury 10 months ago was a huge blow for a player rated as one of Rhinos’ brightest prospects. He recalled: “After I came back from the ankle injury I thought I was in a pretty good place going into the season, but then that [the acl] happened.
“It was the first or second week back after the Boxing Day game. In a drill I caught the ball and started to decelerate and change direction. It was on the 4g pitch, my foot caught in the floor and my knee twisted over it. There was no contact or anything like that.”
The hard work began for Simpson after surgery to repair his damaged knee. Since then he has spent many hours in the treatment room and gym, while his teammates were preparing to play matches.
“It’s a lot of rehab’ and when you’re not doing that it’s upper-body weights,” he explained. “But in the last couple of months I have been running again. That’s nice after so long not running. It is a bit boring doing the same stuff, so it is a bit more exciting when you start running. You can see the finish line.”
Rhinos had problems at centre throughout 2023, with Harry Newman ruled out of the start and middle of the campaign because of hamstring problems and Nene Macdonald missing the final month after failing to return from a trip home to Australia.
A fully fit Simpson would have been an obvious option during those spells, but he has time on his side and is confident the layoff hasn’t done his career any lasting damage. “It is difficult to say what other people expect from you, but I expect myself to be better than I was when I was last playing,” he stated.
“Some people might say ‘he has had an acl’ and be a bit lenient because of that, but I expect myself to be firing as soon as I come back. I have had 12 months off and I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t be better than I was before.”
Rhinos’ management clearly think the same, having agreed a new contract with Simpson in June which will keep him at the club until the end of 2026. At the time coach Rohan Smith described the former Kippax junior as an “exciting young prospect” and the player admitted the deal was a welcome boost to morale.
“It was a bit of a surprise, as you can imagine,” he admitted. “It was really pleasing, knowing Rohan and Gary [Hetherington, Rhinos’ chief executive] have got faith in me going forward. I still had two years on my previous deal so to get a new one half way through, while I was out injured, was a big surprise.”