LEEDS RHINOS’ ROOKIE front-rower Andy Yates has pledged to make up for lost time after finally putting his injury nightmare behind him.
The former England academy prop joined Rhinos from Hunslet Hawks at the end of the 2013 campaign, but suffered an Achilles injury in the early stages of pre-season training.
That kept him sidelined until June, when he made his comeback on dual-registration with his previous club – only for disaster to strike again as a biceps tear ruled him out for the rest of the season.
He eventually made his first appearance – after a delay of more than a year – in the Boxing Day win over Wakefield Trinity Wildcats.
Yates said his target is now to become an established member of Rhinos’ squad in 2015 and he believes having a match to look back on will help take his pre-season to a new level.
“I just needed to get a game under my belt,” he said.
“Now I can kick on and try and do as well as I can for Leeds.
“Training is completely different to playing. You need to train, but playing is a next step up.
“We will review the Boxing Day game and go on from there and try and improve my game and the team’s game.”
Yates has been promoted into Rhinos’ top-20 squad for this year, despite never having played a Super League game.
And Rhinos could have to rely on the 24-year-old as a pack leader if either Jamie Peacock or Kylie Leuluai are injured.
With Ryan Bailey and Ian Kirke having been released, Leeds have only Yates, 22-year-old Brad Singleton and Australian signing Adam Cuthbertson to back up their two first-choice props.
“I am waiting in the wings, but you learn a lot from JP and Kylie,” Yates said.
“They have helped me a lot in training and hopefully I can take that into matches and try and improve my game, do as well as I can and play as many games for Leeds as I can.”
Yates admitted pre-match nerves ruined his Christmas, but insisted it was worth it to get a match under his belt.
“It was a relief, I just wanted to get out there,” he reflected. “I couldn’t enjoy Christmas because I was really nervous, thinking about the game.
“I just wanted to get out there and do as well as I could and I think I did all right.
“I copped a high tackle the first time I touched the ball, so it was sort of ‘welcome back’, but I think I needed that.
“When you get on you need to take a carry as soon as you can, then you click into the game and adjust to it.
“I was nervous while I was waiting to get on. You just want to get out there and with the first touch of the ball the nerves go straight away.
“It felt weird at first – in the warm up I was thinking ‘what am I doing’, but once you are out there it is second nature and I thought I did all right.”
Rhinos’ players were given a week off after the Boxing Day win and Yates reckons they can return to training in good spirits.
“The first game is tough,” he said. “Both sides are going to be a bit rusty, but I thought we did all right.”