Briscoe to add bulk to Rhinos attacking potential

FOR many, the image of a crestfallen Tom Briscoe will be the abiding memory of Leeds Rhinos’ 2014 Super League campaign.

Leeds Rhinos' Tom Briscoe.

Given his glaring error in the final seconds of their play-off game against Catalan Dragons actually, in part, led to the end of their campaign, it is perhaps no great surprise.

Desperately defending a 20-18 lead in September’s elimination tie, their England winger – usually one of the safest players around – inexplicably dropped a simple pass on his own line.

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Sam Williams duly snaffled the gift to dive over and not only give Catalan their first win at a silenced Headingley but inflict on Leeds a sixth successive defeat and leave the recently crowned Challenge Cup victors stunned.

Leeds Rhinos' Tom Briscoe.

It is normally around that time that the Rhinos begin their march towards Grand Final glory at Old Trafford but here, that route was extinguished with one, single, costly gaffe.

For Briscoe, who had scored 13 tries in 31 games during his debut season after switching from Hull FC, it was certainly a sobering moment in his career.

However, the 24 year-old told The Yorkshire Post last night that there has been no lasting negative effect and, rather, he has used the uncharacteristic lapse as a motivation for 2015.

“Obviously, I was very disappointed that it came down to that,” he recalled.

“Clearly, it was a massive error and the result followed.

“But I think during that match we did enough as a team to not win the game.

“I didn’t take it too personally to heart; you move on and become a better player and stronger player from those experiences.”

On that last note, Leeds supporters can literally expect to see a stronger Briscoe when their new season starts in February.

Already a powerful runner of the ball, he admits he has sought to add some extra bulk to his physique for 2015 to make him an even more formidable attacker.

One of the reasons he has been able to do that, has been the rarity of a full pre-season.

Briscoe lost his place in the England Four Nations squad this autumn – it would be no surprise to quickly see him rediscover it – so instead of the five-week tour of Australia and New Zealand he was able to rest and then throw himself into training.

“I wasn’t surprised really,” he said, in response to whether being omitted from a national squad for the first time since debuting in 2009 had come as a shock.

“It’s just one of those things. You can’t get picked every year and I’ve enjoyed doing pre-season and enjoyed the rest.

“It’s been good for me to miss this year. I’ve played for the last four or five with England and not got a proper rest or pre-season under my belt during that time.

“Obviously, coming to a new club last year I didn’t get much time to settle in; I was back in January after the World Cup and straight into the games come February time.

“So to get a full pre-season in from November is great while getting that bit of fitness and putting a bit of weight on is all going to be beneficial during the season and in games to come.

“Come season-time, it will definitely show its benefits. I feel fitter and stronger than I did coming into the season last year.”

That said, Briscoe did score a hat-trick on his dream Leeds debut last season as they won at Hull KR so supporters can rightly expect plenty come 2015.

He had plundered 90 tries in 148 games for Hull FC, quickly earning a reputation as a fine finisher and, given his obvious strength, a valuable asset in getting his team back over halfway on kick returns.

Briscoe played for Hull in the 2008 Challenge Cup final loss against St Helens aged 18 and again when they lost to Wigan Warriors last year. But he enjoyed more luck on his third club visit to Wembley.

The Featherstone-born player scored Leeds’s first try as they ended a 15-year wait for glory in the competition with a 23-10 success over Castleford in August.

Adding the Super League title will be uppermost in his thoughts ahead of 2015, though Briscoe insisted: “I just want to keep improving and keep settling into the systems we have here at Leeds.

“There’s no real goals set for anything to do with the club as such just for me to keep playing consistently and keep improving.

“It’s my second season and, hopefully, I’ll show some promise.

“People aren’t really talking about us much next season but I suppose flying under the radar puts less pressure on us.

“We’ll just keep doing our job and see where we are come time for when it splits into the eights and play-offs.”

Having already shown signs of forming a flourishing partnership with England centre Kallum Watkins at Headingley, their unison could be a long-term asset.

Briscoe, who turned down the chance to move to the NRL, is contracted there until the end of 2018, while his gifted colleague recently signed until 2019.

He may have fallen behind Wigan duo Josh Charnley and Joe Burgess in the pecking order for England places – Leeds team-mate Ryan Hall takes one jersey – but all the signs suggest Briscoe is primed to flourish once more.