ENGLAND international Carl Ablett returns to action for Leeds Rhinos tomorrow insisting he is no thug.
The second-row was banned for two games after kicking Joel Monaghan in the face during their 24-6 defeat at Warrington last month.
The incident, which occurred as the Australian centre scored the final try of the game, certainly made unpleasant viewing on live television but the experienced player maintains it was merely accidental.
“If you watch it you can tell it’s not deliberate,” said Ablett.
“I am not trying to kick him in the face; I was just trying to stop the ball from being put down.
“I think you can tell from my reaction that it wasn’t what I meant to do. I caught him in the face and that was unfortunate but I had to accept the ban; you can’t connect with people in the face.
“It was good that he was able to play the next week, though, and there was no lasting damage.
“I have served my time and I’m looking forward to getting back playing this Sunday.”
Moreover, Leeds actually need the five-time Grand Final winner back in their ranks.
Although they navigated the Challenge Cup quarter-final with Championship side Leigh Centurions without him – just – they then fell to their first home defeat since last August when losing to Huddersfield Giants, a third loss in four league matches for a side that had recently been top.
Admittedly, Brian McDermott’s side were also missing Zak Hardaker, Rob Burrow, Danny McGuire, Jamie Jones-Buchanan and Paul Aiton for the latter and Ablett – who attended England’s mid-season training camp at Loughborough this week – insisted: “The Huddersfield game was a step in the right direction.
“We played all right, we just lacked a bit of execution.
“A few of the lads have had a good break in the England camp, but we were back in on Wednesday and are trying to build some momentum for the big few games coming up.
“Every team’s gone through a poor patch. We’re missing a few people and it is tough when you’re missing your full-back, a half-back, both hookers and two back-rows.
“It is quite challenging, but we have been getting through it the best we can and hopefully over the next few weeks we’ll start to get some people back and should start to see some improvement,” he said.
Leeds, who also welcome back Jones-Buchanan and McGuire from injury plus Aiton for the first time since March, are favourites to emerge with victory tomorrow given their hosts are playing a third game in 10 days following the home loss to Hull FC last Friday and Wednesday’s 48-4 defeat at Wigan Warriors.
“It is tough for them having to back up like that, but they have known about it for a while so they will be prepared,” said Ablett.
“And Widnes have been playing well this year.”
Meanwhile, the 28-year-old admits reconvening with his international team-mates this week reminded him about just how close gutted England came to the World Cup final.
It was the first time they have all met since losing against holders New Zealand in the last 21 seconds of an epic semi-final at Wembley last November.
“It has brought it all back, but it is important you don’t forget that,” said Ablett, about the most painful of defeats.
“The feeling that left you with drives you and makes you want to improve and do better. It will be good to get another shot against Australia and New Zealand over there in their back yard for the Four Nations this year.
“It will be a good test for us. Camps like this week are to familiarise everybody for that and when he (coach Steve McNamara) does pick a squad of 20-odd everybody will know each other and what we are all about.
“I’ve been involved for the last few years and to get together and get rid of the discomfort you have when you first mix with players from other teams is big.
“It might not seem important and people on the outside might say what are things like that for, especially with no game,” he said.
“But as players it is great to be able to get together and get to know each other, speak about things and set goals.
“It is all worthwhile and I am sure this week will be beneficial when we come around to actually playing.”