LEEDS RHINOS’ coach Brian McDermott is confident reserve scrum-half Jordan Lilley is ready to make an impact on his return to Super League in tonight’s clash with St Helens at Headingley.
The 20-year-old made 24 appearances for the Rhinos in 2016, including their World Club Challenge showdown with North Queensland, but has spent most of this year on loan at Championship neighbours Bradford.
Lilley has been recalled to plug the gap created by the suspension of Danny McGuire and will get the chance to go up against former Wigan and England scrum-half Matty Smith in only his second Super League appearance of 2017 and his first start since last September.
“Geoff Toovey has been doing a great job with him at Bradford,” McDermott said at his weekly press conference. “He’s spent a lot of time with Jordan and given him some almost individual coaching. Jordan’s game has developed while he’s been there and I’m looking forward to seeing him tomorrow night.”
Lilley could be set for an extended run after McDermott revealed that the club’s other long-serving half-back Rob Burrow will be missing for another six weeks after having a plate removed from his troublesome shoulder.
“He’s extremely disappointed and we lose a great player and lose a lot of cover,” McDermott said. “We’re going to have to deal with that.”
Burrow’s absence will include the Rhinos’ Ladbrokes Challenge Cup semi-final against Hull on July 29.
Second rower Brett Ferres is also a doubt for the cup game as he prepares to undergo minor knee surgery.
McDermott acknowledges his playing resources are being stretched but he has no complaints over the one-match bans handed out to both McGuire, who was sin-binned for using foul language during his side’s home defeat by Castleford last Friday, and second rower Jamie Jones-Buchanan, who has been punished for a foul tackle.
“I feel bad for Danny but he swore live on TV and kids are watching,” McDermott said. “I think a one-game ban is justified.”
McGuire is out of contract at the end of the season and appears to have come to a decision on his future, while McDermott says he has formulated his half-back plans for 2018 following the signing of Richie Myler from Catalans Dragons.
“We’ve got an idea about Danny but it’s not for publication just yet,” McDermott said.
Meanwhile, McDermott is preparing his team for a tough test against sixth-placed St Helens, who have rekindled their semi-final hopes with four wins from six matches since the arrival of new head coach Justin Holbrook.
“They’ve gone through their poor patch and they’ve got some momentum behind them,” McDermott said. “Every time they come to Headingley, they bring a shed-load of intensity. We’re expecting a tough battle.”
Holbrook said: “Leeds are having a good season. They sit third in the table and are in the Challenge Cup semi-final. We will have to play well to beat them. Of course we know their threats, their second phase play is strong and we will have to defend well.”
Meanwhile, McDermott says he has spoken with his players about the possibility of facing former NRL Grand Final winner Ben Barba, who is hoping to overturn a 12-match ban in order to make his St Helens debut before the Super 8s.
The former Cronulla full-back, who is Saints’ marquee signing, has been training fully with his new team-mates and Holbrook cannot wait to see him make his entry into Super League.
“As soon as I can play Ben I will,” Holbrook said. “He has done a lot of skill work with the players and it is great to have him here. He is setting a good example and it will good when we get him on the field.”