LEEDS RHINOS will be without at least three senior players when their Betfred Super League season begins next month.
Winger Tom Briscoe was already set to miss the round-one clash with Hull on Sunday, February 2, after undergoing a knee reconstruction last year.
Now new signing Kruise Leeming and centre/second-row Alex Sutcliffe have also been ruled out.
Sutcliffe, who starred for Featherstone Rovers on dual-registration during their march to the 2019 Championship Grand Final, suffered a broken hand in the final practice of Rhinos’ warm-weather camp in Spain last week and is expected to be out of action for around six weeks.
Leeming, a hooker signed from Huddersfield Giants, is facing a similar lay-off. He damaged a knee in Leeds’ last training session before Christmas and coach Richard Agar confirmed: “From the initial scans we’ve had a setback in that we felt he wasn’t recovering quickly enough.
“We got him rescanned and, unfortunately, it showed a little bit of something else in there so we are looking at a four-six weeks recovery for Kruise.
“He will certainly miss the first two or three rounds. It’s upsetting, frustrating, disappointing, but we’ve got to get him right.”
Half-back Richie Myler and teenage prospect Corey Johnson are in contention to begin the season as back-up to Brad Dwyer on hooking duty.
Prop Dom Crosby is back in training after sitting out the entire 2019 season because of a knee injury, but Agar would not confirm a date for his return.
“The light is at the end of the tunnel for Dom and he is in exceptionally good shape, mentally and physically,” Agar said.
“We are so close to the end with Dom we are making sure we dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s on the last part of his re-hab’. The last thing we are going to do is rush him back. It is very much gently-gently, but he is not too far away.”
Scrum-half Luke Gale is expected to feature in Sunday’s game at Wigan Warriors after missing last weekend’s win over Bradford Bulls owing to a “twinge” in a quad muscle.
Agar said: “He was desperate to play, but common sense had to prevail.”
Winger Luke Briscoe is available for Sunday after missing Leeds’ first two pre-season games with a groin injury suffered last year. Rhinos still have a vacancy in their 2020 squad, but Agar stressed they will not be rushed into making a signing. Australian-born forward Rhys Martin has applied for a Papua New Guinea passport and, if that is granted, it will open a space on Leeds’ overseas quota.
“We don’t know if or when the PNG government are going to turn that around,” Agar said. “We are comfortable with where the squad’s at and if we’re going to bring someone in it’s going to be positionally right and culturally right as well. But we feel we have a squad good enough and ready enough to start the season. For a while I have been talking about the need to get our young players through and turn them into quality first-graders.”
Agar revealed he has been impressed with youngsters Mikolaj Oledzki, Cameron Smith and Harry Newman in the two pre-season games so far. He said: “We always feel that’s the way forward for us and I am really comfortable that the next wave of those guys – in Thomas Holroyd, Corey Johnson, Callum McLelland and Jack Broadbent – are on their way through too.
“It leaves us in a position of strength that we’ve got a spot, possibly a quota spot and a good enough amount of budget to get an absolute top-quality player.”
Rhinos are still keeping tabs on Australian outside-back Jai Field who was with St George-Illawarra Dragons last year.
Rhyse Evans has been signed on loan from Bradford Bulls to cover full-back, centre and wing, but Agar said Field is “a guy we feel could add to our squad”.
Meanwhile, Jamie Jones-Buchanan, who retired at the end of last season after 20 years as a player with Leeds, has joined the coaching staff as Agar’s full-time assistant.
“He has been in and around our staff for a number of weeks,” Agar said of the 38-year-old former England and Great Britain forward. “We set Jonesy a task earlier this year of doing some stuff defensively in and around contact and the wrestle room.
“Jonesy doesn’t do anything by half-measures and he really impressed us, not only the quality of his delivery, the work he was putting in behind the scenes and the variety to his sessions.
“He is a very deep thinker, he can put himself as a player in a lot of the situations he is coaching and he made an immediate impression on me in what he was doing. I don’t need to explain his qualities as a bloke and we felt he would be a real good fit.”
Jones-Buchanan is the fifth member of Rhinos’ golden generation to join the club’s backroom staff, after director of rugby Kevin Sinfield, academy coach Chev Walker and reserves’ boss Rob Burrow, plus Jamie Peacock who has a role in the marketing department and will be doing some work with the players this year.
“JP is going to be doing a little bit of work around culture and leadership on a fairly infrequent basis.” Agar confirmed.
“To have those guys around and that influence – knowing what the club’s about, that leadership and experience – is brilliant for our players.
“On one hand we need to create our own identity a bit and let those times go but, at the same time, I want to draw on those experiences that have made this club fantastic.”
James Webster, who is coach of Featherstone Rovers, is continuing to assist Agar on a part-time basis, working at Leeds for “two or three days” per week.