Leeds Rhinos’ on-fire young guns give coach Mac much to mull over

New generation Leeds Rhinos players, Cameron Smith and Ash Handley. PIC: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com
New generation Leeds Rhinos players, Cameron Smith and Ash Handley. PIC: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com
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LEEDS RHINOS are back on track following a 20-0 win over Salford Red Devils which ensured they came out of the Easter weekend with three points from a possible four. Here are five talking points ahead of Sunday’s derby at Wakefield Trinity.

1: Rhinos’ long-term injuries are beginning to clear up, but – as he admits – that will leave coach Brian McDermott facing some difficult decisions. In 2016 and at times last year, Rhinos’ lack of squad depth was exposed, but fringe players are another season or two more experienced and that is showing. Ash Handley has scored seven tries in the last four games, Josh Walters had a fine match against Salford – making an incredible 57 tackles – and Cameron Smith and Mikolaj Oledzki are improving week by week. They are still young, will make mistakes and can’t be expected to feature every game, but all of them have proved they can do a job when required.

Josh Walters has been revelling in his Rhinos recall. PIC: Bruce Rollinson

Josh Walters has been revelling in his Rhinos recall. PIC: Bruce Rollinson

2: Smith got more game time than expected against Salford, due to Tom Briscoe’s early injury. He was second in Rhinos’ tackle count, with 45 and for an academy-qualified player to get stuck in like that is an impressive effort. At 19, this is a huge year for Smith and he is beginning to look like a player with a big Super League future.

3: Stevie Ward’s return, after missing five games due to a calf muscle injury, was a major bonus for Rhinos. His try-saving tackle on Jake Bibby was a highlight. What Ward needs now is an injury-free run. He is highly-rated by England coach Wayne Bennett and will be in the side for this autumn’s Test series if he can string a run of games together for Rhinos. After all his bad luck, he is one player who deserves some good fortune.

4: “We hate Rhinos” is a regular chant from opposition fans, but Salford really must. Of the sides’ 42 Super League meetings, Salford have won only two. In their last five visits to Headingley they have managed just 24 points and been nilled twice. They applied some pressure in the second half, but Leeds’ defence – with a lightweight pack – was outstanding and back to its early-season form.

5: Wakefield have lost their last four games, but Sunday will be tough for Rhinos. Trinity were unfortunate not to get something from both their Easter games and tend to play well against Leeds, especially at home.

England Test hopeful Stevie Ward is injury free and hoping for a lengthy run of games.

England Test hopeful Stevie Ward is injury free and hoping for a lengthy run of games.

Leeds Rhinos' Stevie Ward.

Injury fears are put to bed by Leeds Rhinos’ Stevie Ward