It’s a critical time for Leeds Rhinos as schedule gets more intense - Gary Hetherington

FRIDAY’S VISIT of Salford Red Devils marks the start of a crucial spell in Leeds Rhinos’ season, the club’s long-serving chief executive Gary Hetherington says.

Leeds Rhinos players face a hectic schedule in the coming weeks.

Rhinos travel to Hull a week tomorrow, followed by successive Sunday and Friday home games against Warrington Wolves and Castleford Tigers.

Hetherington, who will celebrate 25 years in the post this autumn, expects Leeds’ strongest side of the season so far to be on show this week and insisted they are capable of reaching October’s Grand Final.

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Leeds are seventh in Betfred Super League, one place outside the play-offs, but Hetherington said: “There’s a real desire within the camp to be successful again.

BUSY TIME: Leeds Rhinos' chief executive Gary Hetherington

“We are still harbouring ambitions to finish the season at Old Trafford. I think, starting on Friday, this is a critical period.

“We have got four games in two weeks and that makes this is a period that could well define our season.

“Having just lost to Catalans twice in the last two weeks, after such a good run before that, it is important we get back to winning ways.”

Rhinos have been hit by injuries, coronavirus and suspensions this term, but Hetherington believes the club’s next generation of youngsters have proved they can cope with regular Super League rugby.

“I think we have got an outstanding crop of young players,” he said.

“One of the silver linings of having had so many injuries this season is the opportunities these young players have had.”

Coach Richard Agar will name an initial squad for Friday’s game today.

Second-rower Rhyse Martin is available after a one-match ban and wing Ash Handley has completed a spell in isolation.

Forwards Zane Tetevano (Covid and Achilles injury) and Mikolaj Oledzki (isolating/foot injury) could also come into contention.

In a boost to their future plans, Rhinos this week confirmed the signing of Huddersfield Giants’ Australian half-back Aidan Sezer, who will join them on a two-year contract which begins next season.

St Helens’ Ireland international forward James Bentley, who is from Leeds, penned a similar deal a month ago.

“They are two experienced, ambitious players who will add to the squad for sure,” said Hetherington.