New half-back option emerges for Leeds Rhinos as young talent adds 'another string to my bow'

With their first-choice stand-off and scrum-half both out of contract at the end of this season, Leeds Rhinos could have to find a new partnership in the pivots next year.
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Number seven Aidan Sezer is expected to return to Australia’s NRL, but Leeds are in talks with his half-back partner Blake Austin over a new deal.

From the existing squad, teenagers Jack Sinfield and Morgan Gannon and veteran Richie Myler have all played in halves this year, but now hooker Corey Johnson has emerged as another possible option.

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Johnson, 22, was selected at stand-off for Rhinos’ 16-14 in at Salford Red Devils three weeks ago when Austin was suspended.

Corey Johnson scores his first Super League try, in Rhinos' loss to Hull KR. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com.Corey Johnson scores his first Super League try, in Rhinos' loss to Hull KR. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com.
Corey Johnson scores his first Super League try, in Rhinos' loss to Hull KR. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com.

He reverted back to the bench against Hull KR in the following game, as back-up to regular number nine Jarrod O’Connor, but slotted into the halves after Austin failed a head injury assessment.

Johnson described the ability to play more than one position as “another string to my bow” and insisted: “I think having skills that are transferable between positions is important.

“If I can do that it gives me more opportunities as a player and a big skill set. I am just learning as much as I can and trying to take everything on board.”

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Versatility is something coach Rohan Smith instils in his squad and Johnson added: “He likes his players to be adaptable and to do different jobs when they are required.

Rhinos' Corey Johnson celebrates his try against Hull KR with teammate Nene Macdonald as ex-Leeds man Ryan Hall looks on. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com.Rhinos' Corey Johnson celebrates his try against Hull KR with teammate Nene Macdonald as ex-Leeds man Ryan Hall looks on. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com.
Rhinos' Corey Johnson celebrates his try against Hull KR with teammate Nene Macdonald as ex-Leeds man Ryan Hall looks on. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com.
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“[Against Hull KR] it wasn’t planned, but Blake got a knock and went off and I did my best slotting in there. I was just doing a job, trying to help the team and hopefully we can get a win next time.”

Johnson got his first start of the year at Salford and more game time than has been usual against the Robins.

“That’s something I have been hoping to build towards all year,” he said of his extra minutes on the field.

Corey Johnson has filled in at stand-off for Blake Austin, pictured, in Rhinos' past two games. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com.Corey Johnson has filled in at stand-off for Blake Austin, pictured, in Rhinos' past two games. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com.
Corey Johnson has filled in at stand-off for Blake Austin, pictured, in Rhinos' past two games. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com.
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“I have just got to take my opportunities whenever I can. Obviously the last two games have mainly been in the halves, but I am just keeping learning.”

The 17-16 extra-time defeat by Hull KR was memorable for Johnson’s first Super League try, which came in the first half when he was playing at hooker.

“It was bitter sweet,” he admitted. “It was a special moment for me, but it was drowned out by the loss.”

Rhinos will have had two weeks to dwell on that setback by the time they run out for Friday’s game at St Helens.

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It will be the sides’ third meeting this term and both the previous encounters have been decided by a single point, Austin landing a late drop goal in March’s away clash before Saints turned the table in golden-point extra-time two months ago.

An odd point has separated the sides in four of Rhinos’ games this year and the win at Salford was almost as tight.

“Those close games are the best ones to win, but the worst to lose,” Johnson reflected. “[The Hull KR game] went down to the wire and we didn’t come out on top.

“We kept them scoreless in the second half, but didn’t capitalise on opportunities we had at their end.

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“For me personally, it is a lesson. You have to be clinical when you get into those positions, which Hull KR were in extra-time.

“We coughed up a few errors and gave them the opportunity and they slotted it [the decisive drop goal] over.”