HAT-TRICK HERO Jack Walker was praised for his “bravery and maturity” after Leeds Rhinos got off the mark with a big win at Salford Red Devils.
The 19-year-old full-back crossed three times in Rhinos’ 46-14 victory which was Dave Furner’s first as Leeds coach.
Rhinos trailed 6-0 early on and were only 20-14 ahead with 21 minutes left, but some stunning attacking play in the final quarter lifted them off the foot of Betfred Super League .
Walker had struggled in Rhinos’ defeat at Wigan Warriors in their previous match and Furner said of the Salford game: “He was very good.
“He is only young, 19 years old playing in a position that holds a lot of responsibility.
“His courage is something that has stuck out to me from day one.
“He would be the first to admit there’s a lot to learn, in particular with being able to organise the defensive line, but he is very brave for a 19-year-old and today, off the back of last week, he showed a lot of maturity.”
Hooker Matt Parcell – who started on the bench for the second successive game and was instrumental in Leeds’ late try spree – was another player to earn a thumb’s up from his coach.
“It was good for Matt,” Furner noted.
“He needed to have quick play-the-balls to play his style and I thought he took those opportunities quite well.
“He scored a try, set up a try – I was very happy for Matt.”
Losses to Warrington Wolves and Wigan had left Rhinos bottom of the table, but Sunday’s success will send them into another tough away game, at St Helens on Friday, in buoyant mood.
Furner admitted: “I am happy for the players and for the fans.
“I’ve said from day one we – whether that’s an individual or the team itself – just need to make improvements each week.
“If we can do that we are going to put ourselves in a position to win games. We have had a tough start and we’ve learned from those games, but we’ve got a short turnaround again and it’s a matter of looking through [Sunday’s] game, notice the improvements, look at areas we need to improve and take it into Saints on Friday.”
But the coach insisted there is still a long way to go.
“You always like a win, in particular your first win,” he added.
“There were a lot of good signs, I thought, last week and we just had to work on a few areas. I thought today those areas got better. Our ball control allowed us to get into positions to score points.
“When we don’t score you have to try and generate some resets and I thought we did that quite well, but certainly the players and the coaching staff feel we can still have improvements.”
Leeds were without Liam Sutcliffe owing to illness and Mikolaj Oledzki was sidelined by a hip injury.
“We had a few changes,” Furner added.
“I shifted Wardy [Stevie Ward] on to that right-edge and started Adam Cuthbertson and what I liked was how the team responded to that.”