LEEDS RHINOS have a point to prove in their remaining pre-season games, according to chief executive Gary Hetherington.
Hetherington admitted the 30-6 home loss to Wakefield Trinity in Rhinos’ opening trial match – on Boxing Day – was a shock to the system.
And he stressed Leeds’ players need to show a big improvement over the next four games before their Betfred Super League opener at St Helens on Thursday, February 9.
Leeds will send a team to Hunslet on Sunday, January 15, for the first Harry Jepson OBE Memorial tie, which has replaced the old Lazenby Cup pre-season fixture.
They are due to play host to Hull KR the following Friday in Ryan Hall’s testimonial game, visit Featherstone Rovers a week later and complete their pre-season campaign at Doncaster on Sunday, January 29.
Leeds, who will have had two weeks more training following the Christmas setback, traditionally field a mixture of fringe first teamers and academy players against Hunslet.
But Hetherington said: “The team this year will be stronger than normal, because we have got that many players available and ready to play.”
Only Aussie hooker Matt Parcell, who has yet to arrive in Leeds, did not report in last week following the players’ festive break, though prop Keith Galloway remains on the long-term injury list.
“I think Brian [McDermott, Rhinos’ coach] intends to play pretty much his strongest lineup against Hull KR, but if you look through the squad there’s going to be quite a number of players competing for spots,” Hetherington added.
“The pre-season games will give everyone an opportunity.
“At Hunslet it is likely to be a team made up of quite a number of first-team players, with some of our senior academy players as well.
“It is a great opportunity for those lads.”
The 19 players on duty against Wakefield at Christmas were all from Rhinos’ full-time squad and Hetherington admitted they under-performed.
Leeds had been looking for a morale-boosting performance to set them off on the right foot following the disappointment of 2016, and Hetherington said: “Pre-season games are primarily about giving all the players an opportunity to stake their claim.
“I know how disappointed the players were about Boxing Day. The performance certainly did not reflect what has been going on in training. Nine senior players did not play, but it was an opportunity for those who did to stake their claim and I know quite a number of the players were disappointed at the outcome and their contribution to it. But there is a chance to make amends, starting with those who get picked to play against Hunslet.”
Hunslet will also be looking to improve following a 52-6 loss at Featherstone Rovers in their opening trial match, two days ago.