THERE WILL be an unfamiliar face in Leeds Rhinos’ side at Widnes Vikings tomorrow.

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Leeds Rhinos: Adam’s close shave boost for worthy cause

Off-season signing Adam Cuthbertson is ever-present for Rhinos this year, but his facial features have previously been hidden by a bushy beard.

Adam Cuthbertson

Adam Cuthbertson

The Aussie forward will sport a new look tomorrow, after a close shave in aid of an appeal to help the family of Keighley Cougars player Danny Jones, who died after suffering a heart attack last weekend.

A fund was launched soon after the tragedy six days ago to raise money for Jones’s widow Liz and five-month-old twins Bobby and Phoebe.

And injured Rhinos players will be collecting for the fund in the away end tomorrow.

High-profile Super League players began encouraging donations by offering to shave off their beards if the total hit a certain target and Cuthbertson was one of those to make the pledge, despite never having met Jones.

“It’s definitely a heart-breaking story,” said Cuthbertson of last weekend’s tragedy.

“I didn’t know him, but as soon as the other boys tweeted me about it to get together and maybe create some awareness for the fund by shaving our beards – which we find quite iconic – we thought we might get it moving a bit.

“Hopefully, that’s what we’ve done and it is such a good cause. I’d do anything to help a fellow footballer or their family any day of the week.”

A minute’s silence is being held before all this weekend’s rugby league matches in memory of Jones, a Welsh international, who was aged just 29.

He was taken ill early in a Kingstone Press Championship One game at London Skolars and pronounced dead at hospital later the same day.

A post-mortem concluded Jones passed away from a cardiac arrest triggered by hereditary heart disease.

The heart disease was not revealed when he underwent an ECG scan in late 2014.

For Cuthbertson, the events of last week brought back memories of a game in 2014 when his Newcastle Knights team-mate Alex McKinnon suffered life-changing injuries after being hurt in a tackle.

“I was right next to him when it happened,” he recalled.

“Obviously, Danny’s’ situation is far worse for the family – it’s so tragic losing a life – but I was there first-hand and I know the effect that had on the NRL and rugby league in general.

“His family and friends, I saw how they all got behind him and stuck with him, so I think for me it was a learning curve.

“A lot of people that never actually knew Alex went out of their way to help out and I suppose that’s a similar process I was thinking of here; I don’t necessarily know Danny, but he’s a football player and the character of football players I know through and through.

“They are champion blokes and I want to help out as much as possible.”

The fund for Jones’s family has already passed £80,000 and is still rising.

“It’s overwhelming to see that,” Cuthbertson said. “It’s great to see the reaction from the public and the rugby league community in general.”

McKinnon is still recovering from his injuries, said Cuthbertson.

“There was a lot of progress at first and I think it’s just come to the stage now where it’s a bit more slow and steady, taking every day as it comes, but from where it was to now is massive.”

McKinnon suffered two fractured vertebrae in Newcastle’s 28-20 loss to Melbourne Storm on March 24 last year.

He was taken to hospital for emergency treatment, spending four weeks in intensive care before being transferred to a spinal rehabilitation ward.

A “Rise For Alex” campaign, to help raise funds to cover his medical costs, raised more than one million Australian dollars. Though his career is over, McKinnon has remained on the staff at Newcastle, working in the rugby and corporate departments. Jones’s tragic death has cast a shadow over rugby league, but the sport continues and the Rhinos will be looking to get back on course after two successive games without a victory.

“We were a bit disappointed with the past two results,” said Cuthbertson of the home loss to Warrington Wolves and last week’s draw at Huddersfield Giants.

“But coming out of Easter period and the success of that time – we put a lot of focus into that – then one loss and a draw is a big deal to us, but nothing we can’t rectify going forward.

“We’re looking to get back in the winners’ circle on Sunday.”

Widnes are second from bottom in the table, but have a strong home record and were within seconds of winning at Warrington last Sunday.

“To be in that position and then lose on the buzzer, they are going to be a tough force to beat this week at home as well,” Cuthbertson predicted.

Widnes Vikings (from): Hanbury, Flynn, Marsh, Dean, Owens, Brown, Mellor, Manuokafoa, White, Gerrard, Clarkson, Galea, Isa, Heremaia, Joseph, Ah Van, Dudson, M Leuluai, Whitley.

Leeds Rhinos (from): Hardaker, Watkins, Keinhorst, Moon, Handley, McGuire, Sutcliffe, Cuthbertson, Aiton, Peacock, Delaney, Ablett, S Ward, Burrow, Achurch, Singleton, Sinfield, Walters, K Leuluai.

Referee: Phil Bentham.