Leeds Rhinos: Gloss finish not an exercise in papering over the cracks

The captains of the 14 Super League teams with the First Utility Super League Trophy. PIC: Alex Whitehead
The captains of the 14 Super League teams with the First Utility Super League Trophy. PIC: Alex Whitehead
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This week’s training camp in Portugal will add the final gloss to Leeds Rhinos’ preparations for the new season.

Rhinos’ senior squad jetted to the Algarve yesterday and will return on Friday, nine days before their First Utility Super League opener at Hull KR on Sunday, February 16.

Head coach Brian McDermott has been pleased with the way pre-season has gone so far, including last Friday’s 62-10 win over London Broncos in Rhinos’ only full-scale trial game.

But he feels the time spent in Portugal will put vital finishing touches to preparations which began last November.

“There’s a lot of planning and things put in place in pre-season and we are nearly at the back end now,” McDermott said.

“We went (to the same place) last year and it’s not particularly warm as such, we aren’t running about with tee-shirts off, but it’ll be dry.

“That’s the key, especially with the weather we’ve got at the moment. We’ve been coming to training in sou’westers.

“We have got to take into account what the season’s going to be like for the first four or five rounds. It is going to be wet and cold, but it will dry up.

“We have to put some things in place in pre-season for when it dries up. We can’t all of a sudden start planning and trying to put into place dry-weather stuff.”

Rhinos have gone on camp later than normal and McDermott said that was deliberate.

“We had an option to go before the (last week’s) game,” he said. “It is a choice to go after.

“I wouldn’t say I finished the end of last season and thought ‘we will go after the testimonial’, but it has fitted.

“It has worked. We played the game and we can review it on camp and go and fix it up in decent conditions, as well as continue the final stages of pre-season. I have never done it before, as a coach or player; played a game and then gone on camp, but as it is panning out it is working for us.”

Leeds played only three games in pre-season, the Boxing Day draw with Wakefield Trinity Wildcats, the loss at Hunslet Hawks on January 26 and last weekend’s win.

Rhinos’ internationals and other key players featured only against London, but McDermott insisted: “The nucleus of the team don’t need loads and loads of friendlies.

“They have been together for a long time and the people we’ve brought in are very experienced players.

“We don’t need three and four friendlies to get that right.”

Meanwhile, McDermott still has selection issues to resolve for the opening game – particularly in the outside-backs.

The starting line-up against London included Zak Hardaler at full-back, Kallum Watkins and Joel Moon in the centres and Ryan Hall and Tom Biscoe as wingers.

Only Hardaker didn’t cross the whitewash and Ben Jones-Bishop bagged a hat-trick after coming on as a second half substitute.

“With the club’s recruitment and retention of players there will definitely be competition for places,” McDermott said.

“Ben looked good, he took some of those opportunities that were presented to him. He is keen as to get a shirt, as is Tom Briscoe and Ryan Hall. The addition of Tom Briscoe to the squad doesn’t necessarily mean Ben Jones-Bishop is going to miss every game. Zak Hardaker can play full-back and centre, Ben Jones-Bishop can play wing and full-back, Kallum Watkins can play wing, centre and full-back.

“We can roll that about and do whatever’s best that enables the team to win every week.”

21 January 2018......  Castleford Tigers v Leeds Rhinos. Pre season friendly
Rhinos Kallum Watkins. Picture Tony Johnson.

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