New Leeds Rhinos contract is target for World Cup hopeful Callum McLelland
Half-back Callum McLelland wants to earn a new contract with Leeds Rhinos this season - and that means putting club before country in World Cup year.
The 21-year-old play-maker could feature for Scotland in this autumn’s global tournament, but insisted his immediate priority is getting as much game time as possible for Rhinos and securing an extended deal to replace the one which expires in November.
McLelland began his career in Castleford Tigers’ academy and then had a spell playing rugby union north of the border before joining Leeds in August, 2018.
After three appearances in 2019 - when he was named Scotland’s player of the year after helping them qualify for the World Cup - he featured in eight games for Rhinos last term, but wants more this season.
Looking ahead to what 2021 might bring, he said: “The World Cup is in the back of my mind, but first and foremost, it is my last year with Leeds so I just want to try and prove myself and get a lot more games in this year.
“I love it here and with all the young lads we’ve got here, it is great to be coming through with them.
“I’d absolutely love to stay, I just need to be playing more games to be able to earn my spot.”
Clearly, if McLelland can play regularly for Rhinos that will also boost his prospects of a Scotland call-up.
“It would be amazing, I think that is everyone’s dream, to play in a World Cup and represent your heritage and your country,” he stated.
“It is always going to be in the back of my mind, but I just want to concentrate on this year and make it my biggest year yet.”
Rob Lui and captain Luke Gale are Rhinos’ first-choice half-backs and Richie Myler - who had an outstanding 2020 season at full-back - is also vying for a place.
But McLelland reckons he has improved from this time last year and insisted: “It is competition, but it is healthy competition.
“It brings the best out of all of us, you have to be at your best when you get a chance.
“In that aspect it brings the best out of all four of us.”
Former St Helens and Great Britain scrum-half Sean Long has joined Rhinos as an assistant to coach Richard Agar, after spells with the club at the start and end of last year.
For McLelland, he is the ideal man to learn from.
He said: “He has given our attack a different dimension, just some of the basic stuff, things you wouldn’t even think about.
“That’s how you build your game and build your sets. I’ve been picking his brain, seeing what he would do in certain situations to help bring my game on.”
McLelland, whose form was at the heart of Featherstone Rovers’ charge to the Championship Grand Final during a dual-registration spell in 2019, has yet to have a run of games for Rhinos, but felt he held his own against top opposition last year.
“If you look at our fixtures, we played teams in the top-four,” he recalled.
“For the young lads, it was all great experience and it will put us in good stead this year.”
McLelland is now back in full training this week after off-season surgery on an ankle problem.
“I had a bit of bone taken out, it was causing a bit of agony,” he said. “I’ve rehabbed it and [Monday] was my first session back in. It is all good and I am glad to be back in.”
Betfred Super League is due to begin on March 25 and McLelland said that can’t come soon enough.
“I think all the lads will be ready for it,” he added.
“It has been such a long, drawn out process - especially with having to stay at home for 10 days [following a coronavirus outbreak].
“I think everyone’s ready to rip in.”
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