IT’S crunch time for Mitch Achurch – and the Australian forward says he is determined to show Leeds Rhinos what he is really capable of.
Achurch has been dogged by a series of injuries since joining Rhinos from Penrith Panthers in 2013 and was the only senior player to drop down the list in this year’s squad numbers, from 16 to 19.
With his four-year contract due to end this autumn, Achurch admitted he can’t afford another frustrating, stop-start campaign as he battles to win a new deal.
“I have been looking for a big year every year I have been here, but injuries have prevented it and form and all sorts of stuff,” said Achurch, who was a try scorer in Rhinos’ 74-6 drubbing of USA Hawks in Jacksonville two days ago. “But it is my last year at Leeds at this stage and I am looking for a big one.”
Achurch was a member of last season’s Challenge Cup-winning team and stressed he is is keen to stay at Rhinos beyond this year.
“I am happy here,” he added. “I am starting up a business with [former Rhinos player and now part-time conditioner] Ian Kirke and I am pretty settled. There is no reason why I wouldn’t want to stay if things go well.
“History has shown in the last four years if I stay injury-free I can put six or seven games together and I am keeping myself in the team and keeping others out, but then an injury will come and I am battling the rest of the time to get back in and find form.
“It is a vicious cycle, but I will break it eventually. I am 28 this year, so I am getting on a little bit and I need a big year to further my career.”
England forward Brett Ferres’ arrival from Huddersfield Giants has added to competition for Rhinos’ already hotly-contested second-row places.
“As an international back-rower he is probably going to get first dibs on a back-row spot,” Achurch predicted. “My job is to make it difficult for him and for everyone else to keep me out of the side. It doesn’t matter who’s in front of you, it is always going to be a challenge – especially at Leeds, because we’ve been winning.
“Blokes can shuffle around and play different positions – Carl Ablett can play in the centres and even in the middle and it’s the same with Brett Delaney. Stevie [Ward] is not back from injury for a while so there might be a little opportunity to sneak on the bench.
“Either way, I have just got to stay injury-free so when the opportunity comes I can grab it.”
The big Aussie was also among Rhinos’ try scorers in the recent Lazenby Cup win at Hunslet Hawks and is happy with how pre-season has gone so far.
“I just tried to get as involved as possible,” he said of the game at South Leeds Stadium. “It was tough conditions and you have to get involved, otherwise you just stand around and get cold! It was just about getting as many minutes as I could under my belt, getting a bit of fitness and throwing myself in.
“I was pretty happy with how I went, effort-wise.”