AUSTRALIAN PACK man Mitch Achurch is looking to put his best foot forward this year.
Injuries have prevented the 26-year-old back-rower from fully establishing himself in Leeds Rhinos’ 17 since he arrived from Penrith ahead of the 2013 campaign, but he is determined to put a run of bad luck behind him.
“I think the answer for me this year is just to stay fit and to stay on the pitch,” he said. “There’s been a few things that me and Mac (coach Brian McDermott) have spoken about and a few changes within the team that will hopefully suit me.
“I am looking for a big year, as always, but this year is my third of a four year deal and it is time to kick on. I thought the beginning of last season was probably my best stint.
“I was in the starting side and I was holding my place for eight or nine weeks, but then an injury came again and it was hard to get back in.
“I think that’s the nature of this team – there’s so many blokes competing for positions and everyone’s capable of doing the right thing and doing the job each week.
“You have to really keep yourself on the pitch to hold your spot. But I am a year older, a year closer with the boys and this is the first time I’ve been in a team for longer than two years.
“I am starting to feel a bit more family than just a job. I am looking forward to a good year and hopefully I’ll stay fit.”
From a team point of view, Achurch feels Rhinos are in a good position to go well under rugby league’s new format.
They won the Challenge Cup last year, but faded to finish sixth in First Utility Super League and Achurch said there’s a burning desire to prove they are a better team than the second half of last term suggested.
“Toward the back end of the year we lost our way a little bit,” he admitted. “It took us a while to realise where we’d gone wrong, but the coaching staff have done a really good job this off-season to identify a few things that went wrong and a few things we didn’t pick up at the time.
“Week-in and week-out it is hard to stop and really take a good look at what’s happening around you, but in the off-season, that’s the time to do it.
“This year we have got a pretty good game plan of how we are going to attack the season and with the new structure we are pretty excited about pushing to be up at the top. Once we split into the Super-8s, then it’s anyone’s game.”
Rugby league’s new era will see the top-eight in Super League go into a mini-competition after 23 rounds of the season. They will play an extra seven matches before the leading quartet play off for a place in the Grand Final. Super League’s bottom-four at the time of the split will take on the top-four from the Kingstone Press Championship, with places in 2016’s top-flight at stake.
“It’s different and new,” Achurch said. “Something did need to change, I think. Everyone complains that the lower sides don’t compete with the top sides, but the top-eight going into a seven-game finals series is going to be exciting for the fans and it can only do good things in my eyes. I think we’ll be getting ready for the last seven rounds and we’ll be right up there competing.”