Positivity proves key as Peacock continues recovery

A SIGN of the magnitude of Jamie Peacock's injury is that nearly four months after wrecking his knee at Castleford, the England captain faces a longer period still before he can realistically envisage a return to action.

Ordinarily leading up to Christmas, the totemic Leeds Rhinos prop would have been contemplating a potential first run-out of pre-season, maybe blowing the cobwebs away with at least a cameo in the Boxing Day friendly with Wakefield.

But given the complexities of the severe ligament damage suffered back in August – an affliction that not only landed a huge blow on Leeds' chances of lifting the Challenge Cup a fortnight later but also, in all truthfulness, ruined their hopes of retaining their Super League title – even a light jog is out of the question.

For a man of such action and vigour, enduring the first catastrophic injury of a success-laden career has not come without its problems.

"Obviously, like anything, at times it is difficult and you wonder what you are doing everything for," Peacock told the Yorkshire Post, his misery doubled having been bed-ridden by a severe bout of flu.

"But you just have to get on with it and try and be as positive as you can. You have your bad days but you just keep working.

"Everything with the knee is going according to plan. The aim is to be back playing in May some time but we will have to take it as it comes. I don't want to be rushing and not being right.

"I'm not running yet or training with the team but I spoke to the physio today about my progress and he reckons I should be out running by the end of January. That's the next goal."

By then, dethroned kings Leeds will be putting the finishing touches to their plans for the start of Super League and an opening game against Bradford Bulls in Cardiff on February 13.

Although many of the playing personnel are the same, it will be the start of a different Rhinos era given the new management team at the helm.

Head coach Brian McDermott and assistants James Lowes and Damian Gibson have taken over from Brian McClennan, Francis Cummins and Willie Poching, the trio that had delivered back-to-back titles before this year's blank.

For Peacock, battling back after undergoing major knee reconstructive surgery, working under McDermott and Lowes is something he is particularly relishing given they were team-mates for years as part of an all-conquering Bradford pack.

He has already collaborated with McDermott before at Headingley, when he was assistant to Tony Smith before becoming head coach at Harlequins, while Lowes briefly coached him at Odsal and, more recently, as an England assistant.

"I'm pretty close friends with them which brings its own challenges but I'm pleased they are here," admitted Peacock.

"They've both gone on from having great playing careers to becoming great coaches and it's good to be able to work now with them in that capacity.

"One of the main reasons I signed here was as much to do with Brian (McDermott) as Tony (Smith) back in 2005.

"I kept in touch with him a lot after he retired as a player and we've always had a good relationship. We like each other and it's easier to be honest with one another.

"I'm an outsider looking in at the moment but the squad looks to be coming together well."

Much of Peacock's legendary workload in the first part of 2011 will be taken on by Australian signing Ben Cross, a highly-respected, experienced and industrious prop captured from Newcastle Knights.

Along with Crusaders' powerful second-row Weller Hauraki – a direct replacement for departed Kiwi Greg Eastwood – he is Leeds's only major new arrival.

"They are going to be great," enthused Peacock, 33, a sound judge of what makes an effective forward.

"I've only seen them train a couple of times as I've not really been with the team but they are good for the side as they both like running the ball.

"They are excellent forwards while I do really like Zak Hardaker. I've been impressed by some of the stuff he can do and I'm really glad we've managed to sign him. I've seen him on TV with Featherstone and always thought he'd be a good player."

The exciting utility back was rated the Championship's 2010 Young Player of the Year with Batley's Gareth Moore and has joined in a long-term deal although he is more likely to make his mark at Headingley in 2012.

Peacock believes Leeds – also without influential stand-off Danny McGuire for at least the first four months of the season given his own substantial knee operation – are capable of recovering from the low of losing grasp of the Super League title for the first time in three years.

They are no longer champions but he maintains: "The team is looking forward to that and I can see it in the boys.

"We know this time there's going to be a set of different challenges and there's no World Club Challenge to concentrate on either.

"We can just concentrate on getting Super League off to a good start and getting up there from the off."

Their woeful form at the start of this year, when their minds were too concentrated on Melbourne Storm's arrival, cost them dearly and the ineffective Rhinos were always playing catch-up.

That is something Peacock must do too on the long personal road to recovery ahead but he remains positive that this lay-off will bring its own rewards.

"I want to get back playing but also I want to get back to the standards I want to be at," he added.

"I'm not sure how long that will take but hopefully, if I stick with it, those last two or three months of the season I should be fitter, stronger and feeling younger than I've ever done before."

With McGuire also eyeing the same target, the business end of 2011 could see Leeds be the polar opposite of this year's tiring, injury-ravaged force.

Their rivals have been warned.

dave.craven@ypn.co.uk