Wakefield Trinity v Leeds Rhinos - Rhyse Martin says Challenge Cup holders are in good shape but expecting tough Super League opener
Having an extra-long pre-season has been good for Leeds Rhinos, marksman Rhyse Martin reckons, but he is glad it is almost over.
Rhinos will play their first competitive game for more than four months - since a play-offs defeat by Catalans Dragons on November 13 - when they open their Betfred Super League campaign against Wakefield Trinity at Emerald Headingley in two days’ time.
The Challenge Cup holders began pre-season training on January 4, but have faced a series of obstacles including injuries to several first-choice players - among them three of their half-backs - and a Covid outbreak which led to preparations being shut down for more than a week.
Martin, who is asthmatic, was the player worst hit by the virus, needing hospital treatment, but the three-month pre-season has given him time to get back up and running and he is looking forward to Saturday’s derby.
Last season’s late finish led to the new campaign being pushed back from a late January/early February start to the end of March.
“After coming down with Covid and getting back into training, I think I am in a good spot now,” said the Papua New Guinea second-rower, who is also Rhinos’ first-choice goal kicker.
“Then, with the amount of injuries we’ve had, because of the longer pre-season they are all starting to get towards the back end of their rebab’ now and they are starting to jump in with the team.
“I guess that’s a positive with having a longer pre-season, but I am glad we are ready to go now and the season is ready to kick off.
“I can’t wait.”
Coach Richard Agar will name an initial 21-man squad today.
Martin proved his fitness by playing in Rhinos’ trial game at Huddersfield Giants two weeks ago and confirmed he is fully over the illness he picked up in January.
He said: “I was pretty much back to 100 per cent after I had finished my return to training protocol, which everyone who gets Covid has to do before they come back into the team.
“It is a moderate training week and you have to pass all the health checks and training levels and after I finished that and I was back in the team, I was feeling pretty good.”
Rhinos’ opening opponents, Wakefield, finished second from bottom in Super League last year and have made just one signing, but half-back Mason Lino will bring a new dimension to their attack and Martin expects a tough first game.
“That’s the beauty of this year,” he said.
“I think a lot of teams are going to be like that, are going to be a lot stronger.
“A lot of teams have made really good signings and I think the competition itself is going to be probably the strongest it has been.”
After claiming fifth place last year, Rhinos are looking to push on up the table.
“Everyone’s focus is to get into the top-four, or be number one,” insisted.
“For us, we have got the squad, we have definitely got the talent to take it all the way.
“We have built nicely off last year and I think if we can stay injury free and keep a consistent team together it will be a good year for us.”
Rhinos were beaten 22-16 in their only warm-up match, but Martin spotted some good signs from a makeshift lineup.
He said: “I think our young blokes have definitely shown they can play at the level.
“A lot of them now have played Super League so they have just got to keep building on their game and that’s a good thing for us.
“They will fit in nicely whenever they get an opportunity.
““It was good to get that trial out of the way and see where we are all at and it was very positive.”
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