Leeds Rhinos star James Bentley reveals concussion latest, sets return date and hails 'top-quality' recruits
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The 26-year-old second-rower missed Rhinos’ final four games of the 2023 Betfred Super League season after being hurt in a defeat at Huddersfield Giants on August 27, but is hoping to make his comeback in the Christmas fixture against Wakefield Trinity.
Bentley, who made 17 appearances for Rhinos last season, is in his second week of pre-season and confirmed: “I am feeling good now.” He said: “I am not quite back to full training, contact and that sort of thing, but I am feeling good in myself.
“I am enjoying being back in and around the lads and I’m getting ready to go training now. I’ll be sound for the start of the season and I should be right for the Boxing Day game.”
The match at Huddersfield was delayed for around 10 minutes as Bentley was tended to on the field following a collision as he challenged for a high ball. He was taken by ambulance to hospital and admitted: “I can’t really remember much about it.
“I’ve watched it back and I’ve seen what’s happened so I have got that recollection. I am just glad I am all well and safe and nothing serious came from it. It was just one of those things, a freak accident.
“I’ve had that before in my career. It is just part of the game, it is a contact sport and these things are going to happen; the way I play the game especially, I am more subject to them, but it’s all part of it.”
Bentley praised medical staff from both clubs for the way he was cared for after the injury. He added: “On the day both looked after me really well. Huddersfield were great on the day and Leeds as well for the way they’ve looked after me since. I want to thank them for that.”
The concussion meant Bentley, who played for Ireland at last year’s World Cup, was sidelined for the final month of the campaign which ended with Rhinos in eighth spot, two places and four points outside the play-offs. A Grand Final runner-up with Leeds, against his previous club St Helens the previous year, he admitted: “We were disappointed with how the season finished.”
But he stressed: “It is in the past now. We can’t do anything about it so we have just got to rip into this year and do everything we can to get ourselves in the best possible shape for the start of the season. It is a fresh start, what’s happened is in the past so we get to go again.”
Rhinos have announced a 30-man squad for 2024, including seven new signings and Bentley reckons they have competition for places and strength in depth. He insisted: “I think the club has recruited really well.
“The players they have brought in are top-quality, not forgetting the young players coming through and the quality players we’ve already got. I am really excited to have a good season together, really build and get ready to rip in.”
Arguably the area with most competition is Bentley’s position in the second-row. He and Rhyse Martin have retained numbers 11 and 12 on the squad list, but James McDonnell had an impressive debut season in 2023, Morgan Gannon is back to full fitness after various injury issues, Mickael Goudemand has come into the club from Catalans Dragons and Leon Ruan had a taste of Super League action last term.
Young prospect Toby Warren is also waiting for a chance and James Donaldson can also play in the back-row, though he could spend more time at prop. Bentley stated: “That’s great, competition brings the best out of everyone. Everyone wants that and everyone wants to be starting. I am going to do everything I can to make sure I do that. I’ll do my best for the team and everything I can to make sure we get results on a weekend.”
Rhinos’ pre-season campaign begins on Boxing Day with the traditional visit of Wakefield Trinity to AMT Headingley. Bentley confirmed: “If all goes well with my concussion return and I am allowed to play, I’ll be putting my hand up. Especially with missing the back end of last year, it will be good for me to get a bit of game time. It will be good to see where I am at and I am looking forward to it.”