DIFFICULT CONVERSATIONS are looming for Leeds Rhinos boss Brian McDermott as his young players and fringe men continue to impress.
Nine of Rhinos’ top-25 were either unavailable due to injury or left out when Rhinos returned to winning ways with a 20-0 whitewash of Salford Red Devils at rain-lashed Emerald Headingley. Injuries, particularly in the pack, have led to call-ups for several fringe players this season and four from squad numbers 22-30 featured against Salford.
McDermott reckons teenagers Cameron Smith and Mikolaj Oledzki have “stepped up and shown what they can do” and he rated 23-year-old Josh Walters’ performance against Salford as “outstanding”.
Loose-forward Walters, who dropped from squad No 21 to 30 in the closed-season, played the full game and scored Leeds’ third try.
McDermott said: “I think he would admit sometimes when he has come in he has never quite nailed that all-round performance, which has made it an easier decision for me to say ‘now Stevie Ward – for instance – or Brett Delaney’s back from injury, you’re going to stand down’.
“But he was good today, the whole part – his offensive game and his defensive game was great. I am pleased for him. He certainly hasn’t made that back-row shirt his, but he certainly performed today.”
McDermott added: “I thought Cam Smith was great, for a young man to go out there and play it as robust as he did.
“When the injured blokes come back I will be having some words with some players who probably don’t deserve to miss. I will be a difficult conversation to have and it’s great to have those types of conversations.”
Stand-in centre Ash Handley, 22, extended his tryscoring run to seven in four games and the coach confirmed that he will retain his place for Sunday’s derby at Wakefield Trinity.
Centres Liam Sutcliffe and Jimmy Keinhorst have been declared injury-free after a month on the sidelines, but were not risked in Easter Monday’s difficult conditions.
McDermott insisted Handley has not made the left-centre spot his own, but he said: “It will be his next week.
“After that he is not in that position where I am going to afford him too much room to move if he’s not coming up with the goods, but he has been good enough so far and he gets that shirt for sure on Sunday.”
Assessing Monday’s overall performance, McDermott was delighted with the way Rhinos ground out a comprehensive win, three days after being held to a 22-22 draw at Huddersfield Giants.
“Backing up from Friday was a challenge, but I thought we played really well,” he said.
“Our five biggest men in the squad are out injured and that takes its toll.
“Put it in context, that’s why that was a really good performance.”
McDermott also had words of praise for rookie Super League referee Greg Dolan.
He said: “I thought he was consistent throughout and had a good game.”