TREBLE WINNERS Leeds Rhinos’ squad for next year is as good as it has ever been, according to veteran Rob Burrow.
Rhinos will go into the new campaign – which begins at home to Warrington Wolves in exactly six weeks’ time – without departed club legends Kevin Sinfield, Kylie Leuluai and Jamie Peacock, as well as hooker Paul Aiton.
Sinfield, Leuluai and Peacock have 19 Grand Final winner’s rings between them and their exit leaves a huge hole, but Burrow insisted he has been impressed by the club’s recruitment.
Australian hooker Beau Falloon and prop Keith Galloway will both make their first appearance when Rhinos take on visitors Wakefield Trinity Wildcats in the Boxing Day Wetherby Whaler Festive Challenge.
Burrow, who will start the game at scrum-half, said: “You can’t begin to replace the players who have left, but the squad is as strong as I have ever seen it.
“The people Gary [chief executive Gary Hetherington] has brought in are quality. We are going to be a big pack next year and hopefully that will work for us.”
Burrow admitted it is “weird” adjusting to training without players who have been mainstays of the club for so long, but he added: “Morale is as good as ever.
“Everybody is having a good laugh, but also working hard – which is part and parcel of a successful team, having that togetherness.
“The new players have settled in and that’s easy because the lads are so down to earth.”
Saturday’s attention will focus on Rhinos’ overseas recruits, but Burrow has high hopes for four teenagers who have been named among the substitutes. He has coached 17 year olds Cameron Smith, Mikolaj Oledski and Josh Jordan Roberts and Ryan Jones, 18, in Leeds’ under-16s scholarship team and is excited by their potential.
Smith, a former England Youth captain, is one of the country’s most highly-rated prospects and Burrow said: “He’s something else at his own age.
“It will be a test to step up against men, but if anyone can do it, he can. He is only young, but he has got plenty of skill.
“He trained with us this week and it was like he is 28, not 17. He has got a big future.”
Polish-born Oledski is a product of the Hunslet Warriors community club.
And Burrow said: “He’s a big unit and he relies on power and strength.
“He is 17 and built like a 25-year-old.
“He is another great prospect for the club.”
Jones will line-up against his home city club and Jordan Roberts is following in the footsteps of his father Robert Roberts, who played in Super League for Hull, Huddersfield and Halifax.
Burrow said: “Ryan is a good athlete, he has pace and he’s strong. Josh works hard and does the unselfish things, a bit like Jamie Jones-Buchanan.
“It will be good to see how they all go. It is a big step up for all of them and a great opportunity.”
Half way through pre-season, Burrow said he is looking forward to getting a game under his belt.
“I’m feeling great,” he stated. “It’s probably the first time in three years I haven’t had a niggle at this stage and I am 100 per cent.
“I had a good break and I’ve come back fresh and feeling good.”