NEWLY-ARRIVED Australian recruit Mitch Garbutt is hoping to emulate the success of a close friend when he enters the Super League stage as a Leeds Rhinos player.
Garbutt touched down in England on Saturday, was due to meet his new team-mates for the first time at training today and could come into contention for Friday’s first versus second showdown with St Helens at Headingley.
This week’s game will be Saints’ first in Super League since Castleford Tigers pipped them 25-24 at Wheldon Road, thanks to a drop goal on the last kick of the match from full-back Ben Roberts.
Garbutt is in the United Kingdom for the first time and had never met any of Leeds’ squad or coaching staff before, but Roberts, also a former Melbourne Storm player, is among his mates from back home.
“I am good friends with Ben Roberts, who’s at Castleford,” he said.
“I keep in contact with him a fair bit and he loves the Super League environment.
“He only had good words to say about it. I have seen a few of his games and he’s going really well.”
Though not the big-name signing Leeds fans crave, at 6ft 2in and close to 18st, Garbutt has the physical attributes to make a success of his Super League career.
He is also noted for an aggressive running style and good handling skills and believes the English game will suit the way he plays.
“I like to think I’ll be able to slot in and play my natural game here,” he said. “That’s what I’m hoping for anyway.”
Garbutt was one of the most sought-after young forwards in Australia when Brisbane Broncos signed him from Melbourne last year.
An injury, change of coach and the form of Broncos’ established props prevented him from securing a regular place in the Queensland club’s NRL team and Brisbane made it clear they were prepared to let him go, partly due to salary cap issues and also the fact they felt it was unfair to retain a player who was not featuring in the starting side most weeks.
NRL sides Manly Sea Eagles and Parramatta Eels were keen on the 26-year-old, but Leeds, who had been targeting him as a possible signing for next season, had space in their budget to bring him over immediately and he described the opportunity as too good to turn down.
“It has happened very quickly, but we are really excited to be here,” said Garbutt.
“I just can’t wait to start playing. We’ve been talking to Gary (Hetherington, Rhinos’ chief executive) for a couple or three weeks now.
“I have always been interested, as soon as I found out this was an option I told my manager to get it sorted straight away.
“I was really excited about the opportunity to come over here.
“It is something we always thought we’d like to do, come over here at some stage.
“The opportunity came up a bit quicker than I thought it would and I jumped at it.”
Of Leeds, he said: “I have watched them on TV. There’s a lot of good players in there and they’ve been a really successful club over recent years.
“They are having a really good season this year too, so, hopefully, I can help out in some way.”
It is an interesting time for Garbutt to arrive, with Leeds top of the table and through to another Challenge Cup semi-final, following Friday’s hard-fought 24-6 win at Hull.
“Hopefully, we can maintain that success,” added the front-row, who has been accompanied to England by wife Ruth and their three-month-old daughter, Jordan-Coco.
“We were delighted to come to Leeds, especially as it is such a good club and a strong club in the Super League.
“To get over as quick as we did, it was a rush, but it has worked out for the best.”
Garbutt has not played for four weeks, but trained regularly throughout that time and described himself as “fit and ready to go”.
Contemplating the prospect of a debut in four days’ time, he said: “It’d be good if I could get in there, but I’ll see what happens.
“They haven’t told me if I’m playing yet, but it’d be unreal if I could get on the field.”
With pack leaders Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai both due to retire at the end of the season, Garbutt will have big boots to fill.
But he has a good pedigree and has worked under two of the game’s top coaches in Melbourne’s Craig Bellamy and Wayne Bennett at the Broncos.
“My junior club is West Newcastle,” he said.
“I am from Newcastle originally. I played all my juniors through them.
“I was with the Newcastle Knights from Under-16s to Under-20s.
“I played a season of Bush rugby league, which is like a local league comp’ and then I got an opportunity to go to Melbourne Storm.
“I was down there for three years, then I went to the Broncos and now I’m here.”
He was handed his first grade debut by Bellamy and said: “He is a good person, a very good fella. He is very professional, very passionate. I have only got good things to say about him.”