Leeds Rhinos are starting from a position of strength

LEEDS RHINOS are back in pre-season, with almost a full complement of players on the field from day one.

Settling in: New Leeds Rhinos signing James Bentley. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

After an injury-ravaged year, Rhinos had close to a clean bill of health when preparations for the new campaign began at Headingley yesterday.

David Fusitu’a has yet to arrive in England, but fellow new signings Blake Austin, Aidan Sezer and James Bentley were all on the field.

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Bentley, signed from St Helens, suffered a back injury at the start of September which brought his 2021 campaign to an early end, but coach Richard Agar confirmed: “He is good; we have got to be careful with him, but he is pain-free.

“He’s been cleared from the specialist, we’ve just got to not put him in the heavy contact stuff for the first couple of weeks, but we’ve got no dramas with that. It is all pretty positive on how he is coming along.”

Liam Sutcliffe remains sidelined as he recovers from knee surgery and Agar said: “He is getting there. We think he will be in full training in the new year.”

Featherstone Rovers have boosted their hopes of promotion to Super League next year by signing former Sydney Roosters, Newcastle Knights, Canberra Raiders and Wests Tigers centre Joey Leilua.

Former Royal Marine commando Jack Smith has rejoined the Rugby Football League’s panel of full-time referees.

Smith, who was shot through the chest by a Taliban sniper in Afghanistan in 2010, was a full-time official from 2016-17 but reverted to being part-time for the last four years.

Now 32, he is back on the nine-strong Super League panel, alongside new appointees Liam Rush, who will become the youngest full-time referee at 21, and Australia-born James Vella.

They will fill the vacancies created by the decisions of Robert Hicks and Scott Mikalauskas to go part-time.

Steve Ganson, the RFL’s head of match officials, said: “On behalf of the RFL and the wider game, I thank Scott Mikaluaskas for his five years on the full-time panel, following his decision to step away for personal and professional reasons.

“Scott has been a valuable member of our squad - and like Robert Hicks, whose departure from the full-time squad was announced recently, it is very good news that he will remain available as a part-time official.

“The full-time squad for 2022 has a good blend of experience and some new faces who I am sure will take the opportunities they will be presented with throughout 2022 and beyond.”

The other full-time referees for 2022 are Ben Thaler, James Child, Chris Kendall, Liam Moore, Tom Grant and Marcus Griffiths.