LONG-TERM CASUALTY Ian Kirke is in contention to make his Leeds Rhinos return tomorrow night.
The 33-year-old front-rower is back in full training after surgery on a rib problem which has bothered him since last August. Kirke has yet to play this season, but is included in Rhinos’ initial 19 to face London Broncos at Headingley Carnegie.
Chris Clarkson, Brad Singleton, Ryan Hall and 19-year-old rookie Robbie Mulhern are also vying to replace Joel Moon, Jamie Peacock and Brett Delaney who picked up knocks against Widnes last week. I am feeling all right, it is still a bit sore, but I am getting there,” Kirke said. “It hasn’t really changed for the last few weeks, so I think it will come to a point where I crack on with it. So long as they (Rhinos’ medical staff) say the rib’s structurally sound I am happy to do that. It feels better than it did previously.
“I have not done any running or much training, so it is down to Mac (coach Brian McDermott) as to when he wants to slot me in.”
Kirke, who made his debut in 2006 after joining Rhinos from lower division side York, admitted he has to earn his recall.
“It has been pretty frustrating, because I know the longer I am out the harder it’s going to be to get my spot back,” he said. “All I can do is train as hard as I can – I trained all last week – and be in the wings waiting for an opportunity.
“Mac does rotate people, like he did with Hally (Ryan Hall) last week. Obviously that’s not my position, but he does rotate the squad and it is a long year, so there will be an opportunity at some point, if not this week.”
The lay-off was a major setback for Kirke, who is just four games away from 200 for Leeds.
“I had a good pre-season,” he said. “Then to have this done in the middle of pre-season was more than a bit frustrating.
“It means I have come back not as fit as I was, but I will be all right. It will get through it and once I’ve had a few games I’ll get some fitness back.”
Carl Ablett last week became only the 78th player to make 200 appearances for Leeds. Ryan Hall is on 197 and Kirke said: “I wasn’t really aware of how close it is, but I just like playing for Leeds and 200 games will be a nice milestone.”
Meanwhile, Rhinos’ Tetley’s Challenge Cup tie at Wakefield Trinity Wildcats has been confirmed for Sunday, April 6 (2pm).