Why a Grand Final can complete the journey for Leeds Rhinos’ Harry Newman

A YEAR ago, Harry Newman was coming to terms with a shattering injury blow which ended his season and, ultimately, cost him an appearance at Wembley.

Leeds Rhinos' Harry Newman. Picture: John Clifton/SWpix.com

Now, the 21-year-old, who is widely regarded as one of the most exciting talents in European rugby league, is preparing for what he admits is “the biggest game of my career” with the chance to play in a Grand Final at stake.

Newman’s form since his return to action, in July, has been at the heart of Leeds Rhinos’ recovery from a difficult start to the year which saw them lose four of their opening five Super League matches.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Having qualified for the play-offs with a game in hand, they won 8-0 at Wigan Warriors last week to secure an away semi-final against defending champions St Helens.

Rhinos' Harry Newman is consoled by Rhyse Martin after his injury last year. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Friday’s tie comes exactly three weeks after Leeds were crushed 40-6 in a league game at Langtree Park, on a night when Saints’ England prop Alex Walmsley ran amok.

The home team led 28-0 after just half an hour, en-route to their seventh successive win over Leeds and it will take a huge improvement for Rhinos to change the outcome in two days’ time.

Newman stressed they can’t afford to be slow out of the blocks, but firmly believes his comeback could lead all the way to Old Trafford, if Leeds get their game right on the night.

“Our start this week is massive,” he said of where Rhinos need to be better on Friday.

Leeds Rhinos' Harry Newman (right) celebrates scoring a try. Picture: Richard Sellers/PA Wire.

“We know they are going to come out all guns blazing.

“They are used to playing in these types of games and we have to handle their big fellas.

“We will look at them, but we have got all our big middles back and I am sure it will be a great contest.”

Leeds bounced back from their earlier loss to Saints with a stylish performance against Hull KR to secure fifth place on the final table.

They maintained that good form by whitewashing Wigan last week and Newman insisted they have put their previous visit to Merseyside behind them.

“It was a tough one to take, but we had nowhere near our full-strength side out that day,” he recalled.

“We know we are capable of a lot better.

“We have looked at that game and know we didn’t play to the standard we’d like to, but when it gets to this time of the year and this sort of game, one away from the big one, that result doesn’t really matter.

“It is all about Friday night.”

Last week marked a year since Newman suffered a badly broken leg in a Super League win over Hull KR, played at Warrington.

He missed Rhinos’ Challenge Cup final win over Salford Red Devils the following month, though Leeds presented him with a winner’s medal and also sat out the opening 13 games of this season,

After returning two months ago, he quickly recaptured the form which had earned him a place in coach Shaun Wane’s England elite squad.

“I’ve not watched the footage,” he said of last year’s fateful game.

“I don’t need to or want to, it is the past.

“I have put it behind me and moved on since then.

“I feel the injury helped me grow as a player, both mentally and physically and I am just looking to the future now and this massive test on Friday night.

“Coming back from this injury, it would be quite incredible to get to Old Trafford the same year, but that’s not just down to me, it’s down to the team.

“It has been a team effort this whole season.”

Leeds have been ravaged by injuries from literally the first day of pre-season, when then-captain Luke Gale suffered a torn pectoral muscle.

Though the top-four was identified as a realistic target before a ball was kicked, Newman believes fifth place and reaching the penultimate weekend is an achievement in the circumstances.

“I think we’ve done extremely well,” he reflected.

“At the start of the year we had about 12 players who weren’t on the field and we lost six of our first eight games.

“For the boys to come together the way they have shows the character we’ve got in this team and how tight we are as a group.

“We knew the games we had to chalk off, how many we needed to win and who we needed to beat and that’s what we did.

“To finish fifth and to go to Wigan and nil them twice was massive.

“Now we’ve only got a few players missing, our group is really tight and I think we can achieve something special this year.”