Tom Briscoe is centre of attention after losing No 2 shirt at Leeds Rhinos

THERE was obvious “disappointment” for winger Tom Briscoe when he lost the Leeds Rhinos No 2 jersey he had held for the last seven years but that was quickly replaced by a steely determination to make a centre spot his own in 2022.

The ex-England international was handed the No 20 shirt when he first joined from Hull FC in 2014 but, having scored a hat-trick on debut against Hull KR, it was no surprise he was promoted to No 2 the following year.

Having ousted Ben Jones-Bishop, he has retained it ever since and been Leeds’s regular right wideman with first England star Ryan Hall and, latterly, Ash Handley patrolling the left flank.

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However, that is until now; Leeds have signed David Fusitu’a from New Zealand Warriors, the Tonga winger who flew in on Monday, and coach Richard Agar has handed him that jersey.

Instead, Briscoe has reverted to 20 for 2022 and, though obviously squad numbers do not always have any direct link to matchday selections, in this instance it seems it does.

Admittedly, Briscoe did – impressively – finish the 2021 campaign as left centre, forming a fine partnership with Handley while keeping marquee star Konrad Hurrell out of the starting 13.

It appears that will be the 31-year-old’s best chance of a spot in the season ahead which begins with Channel 4’s first televised live Super League game against Warrington Wolves on February 12. Briscoe told The Yorkshire Post: “I was a bit disappointed to lose that number two shirt.

“Rich has given it to Dave and, if everything goes to plan, you’d expect him to start there but it’s not the end of the world.

Leeds Rhinos’s Tom Briscoe takes part in winter training at Headingley, and knows he has a battle to earn a starting spot in Super League next season. Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

“Rich has spoken to me and given me his thoughts and plans.

“I’ll be challenging for that centre spot. I’m happy to be challenging for that and we’ll see what happens.

“I’m having a good pre-season, trying to get stuck into that, and putting myself in the best position possible to try and start in the centre instead.”

And people do often forget that Briscoe, a two-time Grand Final winner with Leeds, began his career in that position before, ironically, Agar – then in charge of Hull – switched him to wing.

Leeds's Tom Briscoe is tackled by Catalans' Sam Tomkins. Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

“All the way through the Hull academy I was a centre and made my debut at centre,” recalled the Featherstone-born player.

“In 2010 I even had the number three shirt. But it had been when Gareth Raynor got injured and didn’t play again for Hull that he (Agar) put me in as a stand-in on the wing. I seemed to do pretty well so he just left me there and I’ve played there ever since.”

However, Briscoe certainly showed his old centre qualities in the second half of last term which will have given Agar food for thought. England hopeful Harry Newman has the right centre slot sewn up but, with Hurrell having moved on to St Helens, who will play on the left is more opaque.

Liam Sutcliffe had been starring there before succumbing to a long-term knee injury in August.

That saw Briscoe – who passed 350 career games last season – get his chance to fill in and he admitted: “I loved it. I loved playing back in the centre. You get a bit more involved both in attack and defence which I enjoyed.

“For next season, we’ve got Harry, Sutty and Jack Broadbent so we’re all in that same boat.

“Obviously Sutty’s not training at the minute but when he gets back he’ll obviously be in contention for that and then Jack fighting it out as well.”

Earlier this year, Briscoe was awarded a three-month testimonial by the RFL for services to the sport and that officially starts today with a special Christmas lunch at Headingley.

As he approaches his 15th season of Super League – and the final year of his contract – he is also set to play in the Boxing Day game against Wakefield Trinity.

“I’m fit and well so I would have thought I’ll be playing; I won’t have the pleasure of getting that game off!” joked Briscoe, before admitting he is not the greatest fan of festive fixtures.

“I’ve done them enough now to know what to expect, though. Obviously it’s been nice the last couple of years not having to play but I don’t mind it that much.”

Meanwhile, the Yorkshireman has been busy off the field, too, having just started a PHD in sports physiology and performance at Leeds Beckett University.

Briscoe – who has a degree in sport and exercise science – said: “I want to get into lecturing and teaching at the uni’ and do some research on the side which is where the PHD came in.

“I thought it’d be a good job to have and asked to see what the next steps were for me being able to do that job when I finish rugby.

“This was the next step. It was an easy transition just going from one degree to another.”

Just like his switch from wing to centre.