Leeds Rhinos’ star is ‘excitement machine’ as Paul Anderson hails England RL pathway

Leeds.'Rhinos'Harry Newman.' (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe)
Leeds.'Rhinos'Harry Newman.' (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe)
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THE familiar surrounds of Emerald Headingley are distinctively different to the tribal Port Moresby but, for England Knights head coach Paul Anderson, the end result remains the same: progress.

Twelve months on from taking his young squad to Papua New Guinea for two Tests against the Kumuls, their solitary engagement this year is Sunday’s historic clash with Jamaica in Leeds.

England Knights head coach Paul Anderson (Picture: SWPix.com)

England Knights head coach Paul Anderson (Picture: SWPix.com)

That his captain from the tour of PNG, Jack Hughes, and various others, are not in the side is not a concern, though.

Instead, it is a positive. Proof the scheme of developing England’s best young talent is working.

Hughes, along with Warrington Wolves team-mate Joe Philbin, have been promoted into the Great Britain squad that is preparing to face the Kumuls again as well as Tonga and New Zealand on their own tour.

Ash Handley, the Leeds Rhinos winger, is in the England squad set for action in the World Cup Nines in Sydney tomorrow.

The world could be his oyster, he’s an excitement machine.

Paul Anderson

“At this moment in time, there’s 31 players that have progressed for the Knights that are now full internationals,” Anderson told The Yorkshire Post.

“That’s from the first England Knights in 2011, 12 and 13 and then when we started again in 18 and 19.

“It’s a proven pathway for players. It’s exciting. And it’s rewarding when you see Jack Hughes and Joe Philbin in that GB squad and Ash Handley in the Nines.

“Last year was pretty special; having to organise a tour to play two Tests against a World Cup quarter-finalist and to experience what we did over in PNG, it was great.

“We won one Test, lost the other, and it was exciting.

“Now we face a different challenge and we’re looking forward to it.”

Jamaica, of course, are a relatively new entity when it comes to international rugby league.

They have qualified for the 2021 World Cup – their first – after last year’s memorable success over USA and have spent this week in camp trying to tap into the hearts and minds of vast numbers of Jamaicans living in and around Leeds.

A fixture against the Knights is arguably their toughest assignment yet.

Granted, they have some Super League experience in the shape of Wakefield Trinity’s Ben Jones-Bishop plus Huddersfield Giants duo Michael Lawrence and recent signing from Leeds Rhinos Ashton Golding.

However, there is a lot of Championship players involved as well two part-timers who have made the trip over from Jamaica.

“Having very little knowledge of our opponents and, to be honest, no footage, we’ve talked about heading into the unknown,” said former Lions prop Anderson.

“In many instances, going into the unknown can be intimidating but we’re relishing this.

“We have respect for them and said how we need to be ready for anything they come up with.

“They’re building this up and there’s a lot of noise being made by Jamaica. We want to help them in their development – but we also want to go out and show what we’re about.

“Any time you get to represent your country it has to be exciting.

“But this is the only time any England team will play on home soil this year so that makes it even more interesting.”

There is plenty of home interest for Leeds fans with young centre Harry Newman – “the world could be his oyster, he’s an excitement machine”– one of a trio of Rhinos players in the 19-man squad along with Cameron Smith and Mikolaj Oledzki.

Newman is also one of three teenagers looking to make their Knights debut with Morgan Smithies – the Halifax-born loose forward who has been immense for Wigan Warriors – and Harry Smith.

The average age of the squad is just 22 although there was a late change yesterday with Hull FC prop Josh Bowden having to pull out.

Huddersfield prop Olly Wilson has come in, a fourth member of the England Academy side that defeated the Australian Schoolboys last autumn to now earn promotion to Knights.

Anderson said: “It’s been quite a breakthrough year for him.

“He’s had some things to deal with like a big-money move from Bradford Bulls where he started the season.

“He’s made his Super League debut and gone on to show what he can do with Huddersfield which is good for them and him.

“He’s not going to play on Sunday but it will be a good experience for him coming into the squad.

“Josh has had a bit of swelling on his knee and gone back to Hull but it’s nothing serious.”