GOAL-KICKING HALF-BACK Jordan Lilley could make a Super League breakthrough next year, according to Leeds Rhinos coach Brian McDermott.
Lilley, 18, is in contention to feature for Rhinos in the Boxing Day Tetley’s Challenge clash with Wakefield Trinity Wildcats, after impressing in Leeds academy’s defeat by Australian Schoolboys earlier this month.
Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington recently highlighted Lilley’s form in the under-19s when he ruled out a move for Leigh Centurions’ prolific try-scoring scrum-half Ryan Brierley.
And McDermott said the former Stanningley youngster is edging closer to getting a first team chance.
“Jordan showed up really well against the Aussie Schoolboys and he has just had a fantastic season with the under-19s,” McDermott said.
“It would not surprise me if he plays some first team next year, either through injury – I would not be worried about calling him up – or by breaking his way into the team anyway.”
With Danny McGuire, Rob Burrow and Kevin Sinfield all approaching the end of their career, Rhinos will need to find new talent in the play-making roles, either from within the junior ranks or outside the club.
McDermott said he is not concerned by Lilley’s lack of size, at 5ft 9ins and 11st2lb, compared to some other players in his age group.
He added: “Jordan has certainly got potential.
“I was talking to Simon Bell, our head of youth, about some of the different types of athletes that come through and some of the different challenges they face.
“He is certainly not somebody who has been physically mature before his age. He has done it the hard route.
“With the greatest respect to him, he has got a smaller physique and clearly has been a later developer than most of his peers.
“But in essence, that’s why he’s a better player. That’s why, as a half-back, he has had to find the best way of doing things, using the ball, using some subtleties and using some threats from support runners and such.
“It has put him in good shape and then around the age of 17, 18, 19, 20 everybody starts to level out - obviously not height-wise and weight-wise, but people’s strength gets more akin with each other.
“That’s why he will be in front in terms of football - his on-field football awareness and intelligence is certainly up there because he has had to do it the hard way physically.”
Burrow - who will miss the Boxing Day game as he recovers from a groin problem - has been at the top of the game for more than a decade, despite a lack of height - and McDermott hailed him as the perfect role model.
He said. “Whenever you say somebody’s too small or not strong enough you only have to look at Rob, who has had a tremendous career and to this day you tip your hat to him because he is still bringing down 110-120kg-plus blokes and not looking out of place doing it.”
Meanwhile, McDermott revealed Carl Ablett is not included in the Boxing Day side due to a knee problem.
“Carl has tweaked his knee,” McDermott said. “It’s nothing serious, but it’s something we’re not willing to risk.”
Burrow, Sinfield, McGuire and Jamie Jones-Buchanan will make a presentation to ex-Rhinos duo Ryan Bailey and Ian Kirke on the pitch after Friday’s game.
Bailey signed for Hull KR in October and Kirke joined Wakefield the following month.
Presentations to departing players are usually made at the club’s awards night in September and Hetherington said: “It is such a shame when players leave unexpectedly and we are not able to thank them properly.
“Both of them have given great service to the club and we’ll be marking that immediately after the game.”