Leeds Rhinos ‘iron man’ James Donaldson makes his mark after back injury lay-off

WITH 46 tackles – most rattling his opponents – three tackle busts and one crucial break, Leeds Rhinos’ James Donaldson certainly made his mark returning from a broken back.

Good to be back: Leeds Rhinos forward James Donaldson returned from injury in the narrow win over Huddersfield Giants. Picture Allan McKenzie

It is hard to believe, just six weeks before Friday’s hard-fought 13-12 win over Huddersfield Giants, the energetic loose forward had been stretchered off with that worrying injury.

It is testament to his character, though, that he was able to not only return so swiftly but with such a fine display, too.

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Played in atrocious conditions, Donaldson’s grit and determination were just what Richard Agar needed off the bench; it is no wonder the head coach calls him ‘iron man.’

On the attack: Rhinos' James Donaldson runs at the Huddersfield defence. Picture Bruce Rollinson

The former Bradford Bulls player, who turns 29 today, told The Yorkshire Post: “It was awesome to be back. I knew I had to bring something to the team. There were a lot of boys missing and I got more minutes than usual which I was happy about.

“It meant I could get into the game more. I always try and concentrate on my defence and attack usually takes care of itself.

“I was pretty happy with my game and now it’s about building up to Friday’s Cup game against Hull KR.”

Leeds came back from 10-0 down at the interval and were 12-12 until Luke Gale – who nailed a Golden Point winner against the same opponents last month – struck a 74th-minute drop goal to seal back-to-back wins.

However, the England scrum-half, who played alongside Donaldson in their days together at Odsal, unusally needed three attempts to get it right.

“Galey’s always saying ‘don’t worry, Donno, I’ll win us the game’,” said his team-mate.

“He goes on about his kicking a lot but he might need to get some extra practice in this week so we can win games at the first attempt rather than the third!

“The win does say a lot about us, though. Maybe three weeks ago we wouldn’t have won that.

“But the way we’ve switched training about and upped the ante – playing 13 v 13 – I think has helped us a lot.

“We had some great sessions Monday and Tuesday and I think that set us up for the sort of grind of a game we saw on Friday.

“We kept defending our line and turning up for each other.”

Leeds’s win was all the more rewarding given they stood seven players down on the day of the game for Covid track and trace reasons, many of whom did not know whether they would play or not as the club desperately tried to get test results back.

Wednesday’s training session was cancelled and Donaldson explained: “It was a crazy, crazy couple of days. Lads didn’t know on the day if they were playing or not; some were driving in and then told to go home.

“We didn’t know who’d actually be playing until about an hour before kick-off and we weren’t told that there had been two, different teams planned.

“It was a bit unsettling but, as Rich says, those are the wins you enjoy the most when everything is stacked against you. Everyone who did play, did their job.

“I was absolutely buzzing to be back,” he conceded.

“I’d probably have been in the mix the week before but the game got called off.”

“That gave me some extra time to get my fitness back and some extra rehab.

“The injury wasn’t as bad as it could have been but, at the time, it did feel like a sniper in the back and I was getting nerve pain through the bone.

“But once I started seeing some improvement over that first week, I knew I could keep progressing it and get back into some training.”

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James Mitchinson