Loan signing James Harrison reveals how long he has been on Leeds Rhinos' radar and why Featherstone Rovers have backed his Super League move

New loan signing James Harrison was in discussions with Leeds Rhinos a year before his move finally happened, he has revealed.

Wednesday, 9th September 2020, 9:40 am

The 24-year-old second-rower joined Rhinos from Featherstone Rovers last week, on an initial one-month deal, along with ex-Leeds forward Brett Ferres.

The arrangement will allow Harrison to measure himself against full-time players, while also giving Leeds a close-up look at one of the Betfred Championship’s most promising prospects.

“I’ve been in discussions with Leeds, just here and there, for over 12 months now, from last season,” Harrison revealed.

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Rovers boss/Rhinos assistant-coach James Webster keeps an eye on James Harrison at training. Picture by Phil Daly

“We spoke a bit before Covid happened, about getting me in, but nothing really came of it.

“Then, a few weeks ago, I spoke to Webbo [Rovers boss James Webster who is also an assistant-coach at Leeds] and he asked me if I’d be interested in coming in full-time in September.

“I had been keeping myself fit through lockdown, in case something turned up, so it all got sorted.”

Harrison had a spell in Bradford Bulls’ academy before beginning his senior career at Batley Bulldogs in 2016.

James Harrison in Rhinos kit. Picture by Phil Daly.

He joined Featherstone ahead of the 2019 campaign, but cancellation of the Championship for the rest of this year has given him an opportunity to taste life in an elite environment - and put himself ‘in the shop window’.

“It is good to get in full-time; I have never been full-time before,” he said. “It will be good to see how I fit in and test myself. I have always wanted to be a Super League player, and I think Fev know that as well.

“They know my ambitions and that’s why they’ve let me go, to test myself.

“I am just pleased Leeds have given me a shot.”

Harrison was not included in Rhinos’ initial squad for last week’s derby with Wakefield, which was postponed after two Trinity players tested positive for coronavirus.

He would have made his Super League debut in Perpignan two days ago, but that was also called off owing to a Covid-19 outbreak in the opposition camp.

With Alex Mellor and James Donaldson both close to returning from injury, Rhinos have back-row strength in depth but Harrison hasn’t come to Rhinos to make up the numbers in training.

“They mentioned the Catalans game but, obviously, it got cancelled,” he said.

“They’ve said I am going to get a shot but it is down to me to keep my spot so, hopefully, I can impress and the loan gets extended until the end of the season.”

Without the loan move, Harrison would have faced close to a year off the field.

Rovers have not played since March, and he admitted: “It’s nice just to be training and back around the lads.

“I know quite a few of the lads anyway, from when we’ve had them on dual-reg’, so it has been quite easy to settle in. I am excited so, hopefully, I get a crack and I can impress the coaches.

“It puts me in the shop window for Super League, not just Leeds and, if nothing does come of it, I can go back to Fev next season an even better player.

“It is a win-win situation for me.”

Harrison has been at Leeds a week, but said he arrived in good shape despite the long lay-off. I feel fitter now than before lockdown,” he stressed.

“I’ve been doing really tough training sessions and keeping in good nick in case something came up in Super League. Obviously, with the rule changes, I am not sure how far behind I’ll be when it comes to a game.

“Running sessions are always different to a game, but I have trained with the boys and feel okay so, hopefully, I am not too far behind.”

Harrison is originally from Drighlington and the son of former Great Britain, Halifax and Featherstone prop Karl Harrison, who also had a spell on the backroom staff at Bradford Bulls and coached Salford, Batley and Halifax.

“I didn’t really have a club,” he said of who he supported as a youngster.

“All my mates are Leeds fans. I have grown up around Leeds fans, but I grew up going to where my dad was coach.

“The first few years I was at Bradford but, for most of my childhood, I went to watch Salford. I was at Bradford for a year and a half at Bradford in the under-19s, in 2015, then I went to Batley.”

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