Baldwinson has played in four of Rhinos’ six games this year, after being restricted to 10 minutes off the bench in the whole of 2016.
The 22-year-old made his first-team debut four years ago, but then left to join New Zealand Warriors. When that didn’t work out he had spells with Bradford Bulls and Featherstone Rovers, being named Kingstone Press Championship young player of the year in 2015 and nominated for the same award last season.
His impressive performances on loan and dual-registration for Rovers weren’t enough to secure a regular place in Leeds’ lineup, but he has taken advantage of more injuries in the pack this term. Baldwinson made his full debut in the home win over Catalans Dragons two weeks ago and retained his place against Wakefield Trinity last Friday and he said: “It is a real honour to start for Leeds Rhinos.
“To be honest, I have dreamed about this since I was a little boy stood in the South Stand watching. To be out there starting, it is very special. I feel like I have worked hard and I feel like I deserved a go after how I’ve been playing so far, but I know there’s a lot of hard work to be done yet. I need to cement a spot now so that’s my next aim.”
Baldwinson admitted the road to Rhinos’ senior side has been a “tough journey”. He said: “Last season I spent most of my time down at Featherstone and credit to them, they have really looked after me. They have given me the game time I needed and they’ve helped me develop as a young prop-forward, but I feel now it’s time to start focusing on trying to get more minutes at Leeds and trying to cement a spot.
“I know the way we are playing at the minute spots are hard to grab, but on the flip side we’ve got a lot of injuries. I need to grab this time and use it to show everyone what I can do.”
Baldwinson is still getting used to the pace of the elite competition.
“I feel quite happy, but I still feel I need to get up to speed with the game and the speed of Super League,” he said. “Obviously it’s a lot faster than the Championship. The physicality is pretty much there, it’s just the speed. Last Friday I started and after about 15 minutes I was gassed, to be honest. But I would like to think it was a good, solid 15 minutes and I’ll build on it from there. I think the next few games, if I am selected, I will really try and work on the amount of time I’m on the field.”
Rhinos, who travel to Huddersfield Giants on Friday, have won both matches following a disastrous defeat at Castleford Tigers.
“We have still got that Cas game at the back of our minds,” Baldwinson said. “We haven’t forgotten about it, we are still trying to fix things up from that game.
“We made a promise to each other that we were going to forget about it, but it’s hard to forget. A 60-point drubbing is not what you expect for Leeds Rhinos. Each week we are trying to get better and better and build on the performance from the previous game.
“We’ve set the bar now, so onwards and upwards.”
Meanwhile, Rhinos’ under-16s and under-19s will both be in action at Headingley this week in games switched from Stanningley. The under-16s face Huddersfield Giants tonight with the under-19s taking on Bradford Bulls tomorrow (both 7pm).
Wakefield Trinity forward Danny Kirmond is free to face Leigh Centurions tomorrow after he escaped a ban for a Grade A high tackle on Rhinos’ Rob Burrow.
Captain Kirmond admitted the offence and was fined £300 at an RFL hearing held in Leeds last night.