Leeds Rhinos' Kyle Eastmond says he needs to re-learn last tackle plays

ADAPTING to rugby league’s style of kicking is something Leeds Rhinos’ Kyle Eastmond knows he must do after making his long-awaited debut for the club.

The scrum-half played all 80 minutes of Thursday’s 19-6 defeat against Wigan Warriors - his first game back in the sport following a decade in rugby union.

Given he had spent so long in the 15-man code, you would think Eastmond’s kicking game would be something which would transfer easily, even if the former England international did spend his time at centre when playing for the likes of Bath and Wasps.

However, even though Leeds were missing four first-choice half-backs and had back-row Rhyse Martin playing at stand-off, he did not put boot to ball into the 30th minute of the Super League contest.

Eastmond did kick more in the second period, forcing a goalline drop-out that led to him picking out a lovely pass in the build-up to their only try for Alex Mellor.

But, asked what he learned from his first Super League game since playing for St Helens in 2011, the 31-year-old conceded: “Just the way teams are now playing compared to when I last played rugby league.

“It’s not massively different, but I get what they are doing now in terms of their attack; that’s something I learned and also the last tackle finishes.

“From where I’ve been the last nine years it is very different - where you position yourself to kick a ball and stuff like that.

“I think that’s something the whole spine would like to control a bit better and it’s something I really want to get involved in (last tackle plays).

“But it was my first game and, trying to find my way back into the right positions at the right times, it was always going to be along those lines. It will improve.”

Leeds dominated for most of the first half but could not apply real pressure on Wigan’s line due to a series of poor last play options and ended up going in 8-0 behind.

Mellor’s converted try saw them trail 8-6 approaching the hour mark but Wigan eventually pulled clear.

Leeds Rhinos' Kyle Eastmond on debut against Wigan Warriors. (Alex Whitehead/SWPix)

On his own performance, Eastmond - whose last game had been for Leicester Tigers before the first lockdown - said: “I’ve not played for over 12 months so there was always going to be a bit of match fitness and sharpness (lacking).

“I felt okay. The main thing is being out there on the field and I reckon I learned more out there in that one 80 minutes than I have in the last six weeks.

“I knew I needed to get that under my belt.

“I know there’s some things I was rusty on - I could feel it as I was going - but I needed to get this one under my belt so I can look back and I’ll be able to brush up on a few things.

Leeds Rhinos' Kyle Eastmond puts a pass in against Wigan Warriors. (Alex Whitehead/SWPix)

“I feel relieved I have got something to go back on and prepare myself for.

“Training’s not really any good to me, because I feel I can do that, no problem.

“For me, it’s about real action and it gives me something to go back on, strip it down and start really working.”

Eastmond will do that with next Friday’s game at Hull KR in mind as Leeds seek to avoid a fourth successive defeat.

In terms of the physicality of the game, he insisted: “Honestly, I thought it was going to be worse than that.

“I’m not saying that disrespectfully. Next week it might be a different style of game and it might catch you.

“But we are professionals and we are prepared to play the game.

“A lot of the stuff I’ve been hearing the last few weeks, back and forth, from rugby union friends, rugby league friends, was all about ‘it’s going to be this and it’s going to be that.’

“But we prepare to play on the big stage.

“The biggest thing for me was, I’d been out of the game playing matches for 14 months, and that’s where I thought I might get caught out or still get caught out because of a lack of game-time.

“But I know I can get up to speed.”

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