HAVING FACED Great Britain in his final competitive game of 2019, Wellington Albert is likely to kick off the new season in less exotic surroundings.
The Leeds Rhinos prop was part of the Papua New Guinea side which stunned the Lions 28-10 on home soil two months ago.
After a few weeks’ break, he returned to Leeds for pre-season training before linking up with Featherstone Rovers on a season-long loan deal.
Rovers kick-off their Betfred Championship campaign against Batley Bulldogs at Mount Pleasant on Sunday, February 2.
Conditions there are likely to be considerably cooler than they were in Port Moresby, but the stakes are just as high for Albert who is determined to prove he still has a Super League future.
Albert had been hoping to establish himself in the top level with Rhinos this year, but the loan arrangement – his second such spell with Rovers – will allow him to gain valuable game time playing at a high standard.
I wanted to stay with Leeds, but I will go to Featherstone and play good footy with them and prove myself and I might come back.Wellington Albert
He will also be closely monitored by Rhinos’ coaching staff, which includes new Featherstone boss James Webster.
Webster took over from Ryan Carr at the end of last season and also works with Leeds on a part-time basis as assistant to Richard Agar.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Albert said of his Rovers return. “I wanted to stay with Leeds, but I will go to Featherstone and play good footy with them and prove myself and I might come back.
“I signed with Leeds and I always want to play with Leeds.”
Albert joined Rhinos last March after leaving Widnes Vikings.
He made six appearances for Rhinos before his first loan move to Rovers.
Albert was a big hit with Leeds’ partner club, playing 13 times as they reached the Championship Grand Final before their promotion hopes were ended away to Toronto Wolfpack.
A second loan deal, for the full 2020 season, was agreed last month, but Rhinos do have a recall option, in case of an injury crisis in their front-row.
Albert has been awarded squad number 35 for Leeds and played in the Boxing Day win over Wakefield Trinity, but began training with Rovers last week.
The 25-year-old, who stands 6ft 4 tall and tips the scales at almost 18 stone, was one of 11 Rhinos players who turned out for Rovers in 2019.
They played a crucial role in Featherstone sealing fifth spot in the table, before winning elimination play-offs away to Leigh Centurions, York City Knights and Toulouse Olympique.
“All of us played really well and we helped the team get to the Million Pound Game last year,” he recalled of the Rhinos contingent.
“Hopefully we will do that again this year. Hopefully we will have a good season with Fev.”
Albert has gone into the new year on a high after collecting two Papua New Guinea Test caps last autumn, both as a starting prop, taking his tally of appearances for his country to seven.
After a narrow defeat to Fiji, he – and Rhinos team-mate Rhyse Martin, who captained the team – helped the Kumuls to their historic conquering of Great Britain in the final match of the Lions’ disastrous southern hemisphere tour.
“We had a good game against GB,” Albert recalled. “Rhyse led us on and off the field and it was a really good experience.
“The GB players were some of the best in Super League and the NRL so it was good for myself and for the boys back home. We have players in the second tier Queensland Cup and at Championship level as well.
“We don’t have NRL and Super League players, but we went against them really well so it is a confidence boost for PNG and the boys individually, which is a good thing.”