Leeds Rhinos: Injury crisis is ‘unprecedented’ says chief Hetherington

Carl Ablett is helped off after suffering an ankle injury at Widnes.
Carl Ablett is helped off after suffering an ankle injury at Widnes.
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AN “UNPRECEDENTED” injury crisis is making life difficult for Leeds Rhinos, but chief executive Gary Hetherington insists they will battle through.

Rhinos were flying to Perpignan today – ahead of tomorrow’s basement battle against Catalans Dragons – without eight members of their 25-man full-time squad.

Both teams have lost their opening two First Utility Super League matches and Rhinos were beaten 38-4 by North Queensland Cowboys in the Dacia World Club Challenge five days ago.

Ash Handley, Jordan Baldwinson and Mitch Achurch – who have all played on dual-registration in Featherstone Rovers’ opening two games of the season – are included in Rhinos’ initial squad for tomorrow, along with 19-year-old academy forward Sam 

Hetherington reckons it is Leeds’ worst early-season injury crisis in at least 19 years and he admitted the club are going through a “tough time.

Said the chief executive: “We’ve never, in my time at the club, had so many front line players out injured at the same time.

“We started the season with Stevie Ward and Jamie Jones-Buchanan both out and Liam Sutcliffe coming back from a knee reconstruction.

“Beau Falloon got injured in training, Danny McGuire was hurt in the first game and Tom Briscoe, Carl Ablett and Ashton Golding were injured in the second.

“Anthony Mullally’s pre-season was disrupted by the injury he got last year and Mitch Achurch suffered a rib injury playing for Batley, which meant he wasn’t available for last week.

“You expect injuries throughout the season, but to have a spate of them so early is unprecedented.”

Mitch Garbutt will miss the next two games through suspension and Rhinos have also had to deal with the Boxing Day flood which wiped out their Kirkstall base and training pitches.

“That’s something you can’t legislate for,” Hetherington admitted. “We have had some adversity, but we have got a pretty good organisation to deal with that.

“We’ve not made excuses, we’ve just got on and made the best of it.

“It is a tough time and it is going to continue to be, but we are a resilient organisation, with resilient staff and a lot of stability and confidence.”

Hetherington said the fixture list – which sent them to Widnes Vikings’ artificial pitch and the south of France to face Catalans either side of the world title match – was not ideal.

And he also believes teams are raising their game to face last year’s treble winners in what is “the most competitive Super League season we’ve had”.

He said: “Every game is a battle and everybody wants to beat the champions. We realise we are in a tough period and we have got to make our way through it. We will definitely make our way through it, there is no question about that.”