Leeds Rhinos: Chief hints at surprise tour-match selection

Rhinos chief Gary Hetherington and former coach Brian McClennan.
Rhinos chief Gary Hetherington and former coach Brian McClennan.
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LEEDS RHINOS will field their strongest-available side against New Zealand later this month, chief executive Gary Hetherington has pledged.

The newly-crowned First Utility Super League champions will face the Kiwis at Headingley on Friday, October 23.

Rhinos will be without Man of Steel Zak Hardaker, player of the year Kallum Watkins and leading try scorer Ryan Hall, who will all be in camp with England ahead of a game against France the following afternoon.

Jamie Peacock played in his last game in the Grand Final win over Wigan Warriors four days ago, but Hetherington said everybody else who featured at Old Trafford is available for selection.

Hetherington, who hinted at a surprise inclusion in Rhinos’ squad, said: “If you look at the roster we have got, it will be pretty strong.

“Players want to play, it is a match to be remembered and there will be plenty of interest for the fans.

“It will be an opportunity for some of the players who didn’t play in the Grand Final and they are ready and raring to go.”

The match will be the last in a series of goodbyes for Peacock, Kevin Sinfield and Kylie Leuluai.

Sinfield suffered a hand injury at Old Trafford, but will play his final game of rugby league before switching codes to join Yorkshire Carnegie, if passed fit.

New Zealand-born Leuluai will hang up his boots for good after this month’s match.

“It is getting a bit like Frank Sinatra,” Hetherington said.

“But it will be the final farewell for our three retiring players.”

New Zealand, who are the reigning Four Nations champions, will use the game as preparation for their three-Test series against England.

They are due to arrive in this country next Monday and will train at Rhinos’ Kirkstall base.

The squad are due to attend a celebration dinner in Leeds a week today, at which former Rhinos coach Brian McClennan will be among the guests.

McClennan, who coached Rhinos to victory in the 2008 and 2009 Grand Finals, is being flown over by the Leeds club and will also be at the game two days later.

Leeds have not faced a touring Test team since Australia in 1994 and Hetherington said: “It is a big event for us.

“Links with New Zealand go back to 1907 when the All Golds – the first international rugby league team to tour England – played Leeds at Headingley.

“The game is also a celebration of 125 years of rugby at Headingley.”

Hetherington said a reunion of English-based New Zealanders, who have played in this country, will be held before the match.

“The Kiwis are only playing the three-game Test series, so for us to be awarded this fixture is a real honour,” Hetherington added.

“It is going to be a great occasion for the club and the city and ticket sales are going well.”

Rhinos’ players have been given this week off.

They will, however, report back next Monday to begin preparations for the tour game, before starting their off-season break.

New Zealand played two games at Headingley during the 2013 World Cup, beating Papua New Guinea and Scotland.