LEEDS Rhinos head coach Brian McDermott has praised the myriad of people who have combined to usher through the latest batch of talented youngsters for the Super League champions.
Many of them will be in action again tomorrow as the West Yorkshire club’s decimated squad head over to Widnes.
Teenagers Liam Sutcliffe, Jordan Baldwinson and Thomas Minns have all debuted recently and, though losing at Huddersfield on Sunday, have managed to help keep McDermott’s side largely on course during this troubled spell.
“I think the experience of playing in Super League can only help our young players,” he said, with 19-year-old Alex Foster the latest in line to make his bow.
“A lot of credit for how they have managed the step up must go to our Head of Youth Development Barrie McDermott, his team and the systems he has put in place below the first team.
“Richard Hunwicks and Ben Jones do a great job on the conditioning front to get the younger guys up to speed, under the direction of Jason Davidson, and they know what is expected of them when they come up to the Super League squad.
“However, the work begins even before that with these young men with the great coaching we have at amateur level here in Leeds.
“That continues through the scholarship programme with first-teamers like Rob Burrow, Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Jamie Peacock and Carl Ablett giving up their time to educate the next generation of players before they come into our senior system in the Under-19s with Chris Plume.
“Every step is vital in preparing a player for Super League and it’s rewarding to see when that results in performances we are seeing from the likes of Liam Sutcliffe.”
Though Leeds prospered 38-28 against Widnes at Headingley less than a fortnight ago, McDermott realises they will be a different proposition on their own ground.
“I think it will be a big test for a number of reasons,” he added.
“Widnes’s confidence will be high after their performance (win) last week at Bradford. Denis Betts spoke about how they felt they could have beaten us at Headingley and I’m sure they’ll want to put those lessons into practise.
“Likewise, we’ve obviously lost a few people from that game which I’m sure will give them an extra spring in their step.
“They gave us a tough test and we needed to dig deep in the second half to get the win. As they showed, with people like Rhys Hanbury and Joe Mellor, they can punish you if you give them the chance. We will be wary of that.”
Leeds are bolstered by the return of Joel Moon from suspension while fellow centre Kallum Watkins could also make an unexpected early comeback from his ankle injury.