LEEDS RHINOS recruit Callum McLelland can finally see light at the end of the tunnel, after months of training without having a game to aim for.
The teenager signed for Rhinos in August, after the transfer deadline and trained with his new club at the end of last season, but was ineligible to play.
He was one of the players who reported in for the first day of pre-season earlier this week and is hopeful of making his Rhinos debut when they face Wakefield Trinity at Emerald Headingley on Boxing Day.
“I’ll train hard and hopefully get a spot,” he said of the Wetherby Whaler Festive Challenge, when Headingley’s South Stand will be fully open for the first time at a rugby league game.
“It’ll be good to play at Headingley and hopefully it will be a packed-out crowd. With the new stadium, it will be an amazing experience.”
It will not, however, be McLelland’s first run on the famous pitch.
I am excited to compete for my place and see where I stand in the team.Callum McLelland
He revealed: “I played there when I was about six years old, in a curtain-raiser for a Yorkshire Carnegie game.”
McLelland has yet to make it at senior level, but Rhinos have high hopes for the former England academy pivot who came through Castleford’s system before switching codes to try his hand in rugby union with Edinburgh and Scotland.
“Everyone starts from afresh with Dave [Furner, Rhinos’ new coach] coming in,” McLelland said.
“I am excited to compete for my place and see where I stand in the team.”
The taste he got of his new environment last season means McLelland already feels settled at Leeds and he is upbeat about the side’s prospects for 2019 and beyond.
“They are a class set of boys,” he observed.
“Everyone gets on really well so every time you come to training you’re looking forward to it.
“The way we are training now and all the way through pre-season we will be in good stead for next year.”
McLelland is one of two new half-backs in Rhinos’ squad for 2019, along with Tongan international Tuimoala Lolohea who is due to begin training next Monday.
The former New Zealand Warriors and West Tigers stand-off is expected to be first choice to partner England man Richie Myler in the halves next season at Emerald Headingley, but McLelland can sense an opportunity.
“At this moment in time there’s only three actual half-backs,” he pointed out.
“As long as I can compete with those two and be ready to take my chance when I get it, happy days.”
McLelland has a year left as an academy-qualified player, but is determined to make the breakthrough to Betfred Super League sooner rather than later.
He added: “I think that’s everyone’s goal if you play rugby league.
“I can still play academy, but obviously I’d rather be playing first team.”
McLelland switched codes a year ago, but did not settle in Scotland or union and insisted he is happy to be back in the 13-a-side game. “To be fair, it felt second nature when I first came back,” he said. “I didn’t feel out of place, probably just the fitness side of things, but I am really enjoying being back.
“I think we are going to be doing a lot of skills-specific stuff [in pre-season] which will bring us on in leaps and bounds, especially in attack.
“I am looking forward to it personally and it needs to be done.”
Leeds Rhinos, meanwhile, dominate the Yorkshire ‘Origin’ squad with eight representatives including call ups for Muizz Mustapha, McLelland and Tom Holroyd. Robbie Storey, of Castleford Tigers, is also a new addition to the squad.
Former England and Huddersfield Giants player Luke Robinson will coach the Yorkshire side against the visitors.
The Yorkshire division take on the Australian Schoolboys at the Mend-A-Hose Jungle, Castleford on Wednesday, November 28 (kick-off 7.30pm) before Lancashire come head to head with the visitors at the Manchester Regional Arena on Saturday, December 1 (kick-off 3pm).
England Academy will then take on the Australian Schoolboys at Leigh Sports Village on Saturday, December 8 (kick-off 2pm) and the Emerald Headingley Stadium on Friday, December 14 (kick-off 7.30pm).
Squads for the England Academy fixtures will be announced later this month.
Yorkshire ‘Origin’ squad in full: Muizz Mustapha (Leeds Rhinos), Callum McLelland (Leeds Rhinos), Conner Wynne (City of Hull Academy), Corey Johnson (Leeds Rhinos), Dom Young (Huddersfield Giants), Elliot Wallis (City of Hull Academy), Jack Broadbent (Leeds Rhinos), Jack Brown (City of Hull Academy), Jack Flynn (Huddersfield Giants), Keelan Foster (Bradford Bulls), Lewis Carr (Castleford Tigers), Lewis Peachey (Castleford Tigers), Louis McConnell (Leeds Rhinos), Mikey Lewis (City of Hull Academy), Owen Trout (Leeds Rhinos), Robbie Storey (Castleford Tigers), Rory Nettleton (Newcastle Thunder), Rowan Milnes (Bradford Bulls), Tom Holroyd (Leeds Rhinos), Tyler Dupree (Leeds Rhinos).