Leeds Rhinos: Lifelong fan Ablett will be proud to lead Rhinos

ACTING-CAPTAIN Carl Ablett admits this year's Christmas fixture has extra importance for Leeds Rhinos.

Carl Ablett.
Carl Ablett.

Opponents Wakefield Trinity hold the Wetherby Whaler Festive Challenge trophy after winning at Headingley last Boxing Day.

That set the scene for an improved season and Ablett is hoping Rhinos can do the same following a battle against relegation in 2016.

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Ablett admitted: “It is important to us as players.

“We’ve spent the past seven weeks doing stuff and we’re at a place now where we need to gauge where we’re at against another Super League team.

“I think most teams will say how hard pre-season is and how good they are training, but until you get a game and you get out there and test the stuff you’ve been working on under pressure and under fatigue, you don’t know.

“We know it is a good marker for us to show we are on the right lines and we are doing the right things.

“Hopefully we will put in a decent performance and do the things we’ve been working on.”

Most of Rhinos’ senior squad have been in training since early November and England players Ryan Hall and Kallum Watkins reported back on Monday.

Ablett said preparations have “gone really well”.

He added: “This is the longest pre-season I’ve ever had in 12 years of doing it.

“Hopefully we’re going to see the fruition of that. We’ve had minimal numbers missing.

“We’ve had three lads missing with England [Stevie Ward was also part of the international squad], but most of the older group have been in together and it’s a good group.

“It’s a hard-working group and we’ve got some quality work in.

“The weather has been good to us, we’ve not missed one field session and the lads have been training – we’ve had no one on the side with the physio.

“I think that will make a big difference, but it doesn’t mean anything until you are on the field and you show glimpses of what you’ve been working on.”

Rhinos will field a similar squad to 2016, with only Mitch Achurch and James Segeyaro departing since the end of last season and Matt Parcell, Cory Aston and Jack Ormondroyd coming in.

“Obviously there’s going to be questions,” Ablett conceded.

“It’s been talked about to the death, the reasons why last year went how it did, but ultimately it happened.

“I’m sure people are looking at the squad and saying there’s not been dramatic changes, but there’s still some good players in there, some talent.

“The two young lads we’ve brought in look decent and there’s some fair determination among the elder statesman who missed a lot of games last year.

“We want to get out there and prove a point to ourselves that we can carry on and continue to be successful.”

With Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow not featuring on Monday, Ablett will captain Leeds for the first time.

The centre/second-row, who turned 31 last week, said: “It’s nice.

“I am a Leeds lad and it’s a club I supported and a club that means a lot to me. To do it is going to be special and I am looking forward to it and to the game and to seeing where we are at after the hard work we’ve put in and the progress we’ve made.”