TEENAGE PROSPECT Elliot Minchella is trying out a new role after breaking into Leeds Rhinos’ senior squad.
Minchella, 18, is known as a ball-playing back-row forward, but has also filled in at stand-off and sometimes centre in the lower grades.
But he came off the bench in the acting-half role during Rhinos’ win over USA Pioneers in Jacksonville, as part of their pre-season training camp and repeated the experiment when Leeds regained the Lazenby Cup against Hunslet Hawks three days ago.
Paul Aiton and Rob Burrow are Rhinos’ first-choice hookers, backed up by 19-year-old Robbie Ward, but Minchella’s switch could give them an extra option.
“We had a chat at the start of pre-season about it, about trying me in a few different positions and hooker came up,” Minchella said.
“I thought I’d have a go at that and try and develop my game and be a bit more versatile. I have never played there before, so it takes a bit of getting used to, but I played the last 20 minutes in America at No 9 and it went all right, I enjoyed it. Then against Hunslet I played about 40 minutes there.
“It was tough conditions, but I felt all right, I was comfortable there.
“I like having my hands on the ball, so that’s obviously a lot better and I don’t mind defending in the middle. Time will tell if it’s something I could do in the long-term, but I don’t see why not.”
Minchella – who will celebrate his 19th birthday next week – made his Super League debut in 2013, scoring a try as a substitute in a win at Salford when he was only 17. He added five more appearances last year and was a member of the England academy squad which faced the touring Australian Schoolboys in the autumn.
He was promoted into Rhinos’ 25-man senior squad at the start of pre-season, although he is still qualified for the under-19 academy side.
“I am not sure what position’s for me at the moment,” said the former West Bowling junior, who grew up supporting his home city club Bradford Bulls.
“I am going through a bit of a stage where I don’t know where I am at, so I thought I would try hooker and that just gives me an extra option.”
He added: “I suppose once the games start coming every week I will get more of an idea of what position suits me best. I still am a second-rower, but it gives me an extra option. I can play in the halves, at 13 or even nine now, so I am just going to work on that for a few games and see what happens.”
Minchella, who signed a three-year contract in December, 2013, is regarded by Rhinos’ coaching staff as one of the club’s brightest prospects.
“Pre-season has been good,” he said. “I have dropped a bit of weight, which is what I wanted to do. I am feeling good.
“This is my second year of full-time now and I feel more of a first team player. I can’t wait for the season to start, because pre-season has been a long one.”
Minchella played in last year’s wins over London Broncos and at Salford and the defeats to bottom-three sides Wakefield Trinity Wildcats, Bradford and London, all of them off the substitutes’ bench.
“I’d like to play more than five this year, but whether that’s realistic or not I don’t know,” he said.
“I don’t know if that’s going to happen, with injuries or whatever else happens in the season, but I’d like to be around about there or to beat it.
“Getting the squad number was good, it was a big confidence boost for me – and not just for me, but for the other young lads who have come into the 25 as well.
“Just to get that number shows that Mac [coach Brian McDermott] is believing in us.
“We are proud just to be in and around the squad, but we want to progress now and take some of that on to the field and show why we are there, rather that just being a name in the squad.”
This month’s camp in Florida was an opportunity for Minchella to spend more time with Rhinos’ senior players.
“I went to Portugal last year,” he said.
“That was good, but I think America was even better. It brought us all a lot closer.
“Quite a lot of young lads have come into the squad this year and we all bedded in quite well.
“It was good to be around people like Kev [Sinfield]. I roomed with Rob [Burrow] so it was good to share a week with someone like that, who has been there and done it. It was good to have an insight into what they do 24-7.”
Assistant-coach Chris Plume, who was in charge of the Rhinos’ Lazenby Cup team, believes Minchella has the qualities to play hooker at the top level.
“It is something we are looking at,” Plume confirmed. “Elliot was keen to have a run and have a go at that.
“We think his skill set is suited to it, so we’ve had a good look at him there.”