AS INJURIES mount in the pack, Leeds Rhinos coach Dave Furner insists he will have no hesitation throwing front-row recruit Wellington Albert in at the deep end.
Albert, a 24-year-old Papua New Guinean, joined Rhinos on trial last week after being made redundant when Widnes Vikings went into administration in March.
Yesterday’s training session was only his second with the club, but Furner confirmed he plans to given Albert a game within the next few weeks and he could feature away to Hull KR tomorrow if paperwork is completed in time.
Rhinos are hoping to sign the big-hitting prop on a short-term contract and have left a vacancy in their initial squad for the trip to KCOM Craven Park, naming 18 players instead of the usual 19.
Teenage prop Tom Holroyd, who has featured in Leeds’ past three games, has been ruled out due to an ankle sprain and joins fellow forwards Carl Ablett, Dom Crosby and Stevie Ward on the casualty list. Rhinos’ pack is also without the suspended Brett Ferres.
Assessing what Albert could bring to Leeds’ side, Furner said: “He is a big body and he has got some good skills, a very good skill set in attack. He is aggressive and it just adds [to the squad].
“We have had five players in the forwards, in particular in the middle, on the sidelines and that has weakened the squad in numbers.
“Just having Wellington Albert in the mix is quite good.
“There’s a few things we’ve got to tick off, but hopefully that should be done soon.”
Albert played 11 times for his former club in Super League last year, all as a substitute.
Furner added: “I have seen enough of him from when he played for Widnes to know what he can bring to this team.
“That’s the big thing, it is about adding value to the squad and I certainly think he can.
“He has got a bit of a different skill set to some of the players we’ve got and that’s important.”
Adam Cuthbertson is poised to return from a foot injury, which will give Rhinos more cover in the forwards.
But they will be without scrum-half Richie Myler who is suspended for tomorrow’s game.
Stand-off Tui Lolohea, dropped for their last two matches, has been named in the initial group, but the vacancy also gives Furner the option of bringing in 19-year-old England academy half-back Callum McLelland.
The youngster joined Rhinos last year after a short spell in Scottish rugby union and has yet to make a first team appearance.
A relegation battle in one of Super League’s most intimidating atmospheres would be a baptism of fire, but Furner confirmed the former Castleford Tigers academy back is “getting close” to a senior call-up.
“All of his games this year have been in the academy,” said Furner.
“He is just getting back now to where he is opposing the first grade players, which he did in pre-season and he looked really solid and really good.
“I would like to see him have a couple of games against more physical teams, just to see, but he is certainly a clever young player.”
Despite their problems with injuries and suspensions, Furner insisted Rhinos are in buoyant mood ahead of tomorrow’s four-pointer.
Hull KR are two places and two points above Leeds on the table and a win would lift Rhinos off the bottom.
Last week’s golden-point extra-time win over Castleford Tigers was only Leeds’ second success of the season and Furner stressed the need for consistency as they battle to turn their faltering campaign around.
In particular, he is anxious to avoid a repeat of the late collapse which saw Tigers hit back to level the scores after Leeds led 20-4 with a quarter of the match remaining.
“It is an important game,” said Furner. “I know Tim [Sheens, Rovers’ coach] quite well and I went and watched the St Helens-Hull KR game last week, but it is about our team being more consistent than last week; if we are ahead being able to close the game off and if we are coming from behind knowing how to get back into the game and be able to win it.
“Off the back of last week we need to be building on that. Of the last three games, I would say we should have nailed another two.
“It will be a good challenge this week and we’ve got to take the confidence from last week into this game.”
Wigan’s helter-skelter start to their Super League title defence took another twist when it was revealed that Australian prop Gabe Hamlin has been charged with a UK anti-doping violation.
The club have not divulged the precise nature of the failed drugs test, but say the player has been provisionally suspended by the Rugby Football League pending the conclusion of the case.