Wigan Warriors v Leeds Rhinos: Harry Newman back up to full speed with World Cup in his sights

ONE of the most refreshing rugby league stories in recent weeks has been the return to action of Leeds Rhinos’ young centre Harry Newman.

BACK IN THE GAME: Harry Newman, in action for Leeds Rhinos against Castleford Tigers at Headingley last month. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.

The sight of the exciting 21-year-old back on the field after a horrific double leg break has certainly been a welcome boost for his club as they look to time their run into the Super League play-offs to perfection.

Currently in seventh, Rhinos know a third successive win at Wigan Warriors tonight would lift them up into the crucial top-six just behind their faltering opponents in fourth spot.

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Admittedly, Leeds begin in an invidious position, in part as they have a raft of top injured players expected not to play again this term although their youngsters have come in and shown they have talent to mix it with the best.

ENCOURAGEMENT: England RL head coach, Shaun Wane. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

Newman told The Yorkshire Post: “We’ve labelled this our biggest game of the season so far.

“Especially with all the injuries we’ve had, and where we sit in the league, if we win this game it drags Wigan right back into it and boosts our hopes of grabbing that fourth spot.

“They do have a lot of injuries, too, and had a tough loss against St Helens last week but we’ll be expecting the best version of Wigan.

“They’ll be looking to bounce back, especially being at home again. But we know if we play well we’ll give them a really good game.”

SETBACK: Leeds Rhinos' Harry Newman is consoled by Rhyse Martin after his leg break injury last season. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.

Thankfully, Newman – who made his Super League debut against Wigan four years ago – has shown no long-standing ill-effects from that horror injury suffered last September.

The England Knights international only made his playing return last month.

“It was a long time out: 10 and a half months,” he recalled.

“It took a couple of games to get over those initial nerves and just get back into it all.

“I feel I’ve had a few good games and a few games where I’ve not quite been myself but I guess after being out so long that was always going to be the case.

“I just want to keep progressing this year and then get a massive pre-season under my belt for next season.

“But the leg’s been absolutely perfect. I don’t get any pain from it. I couldn’t tell I’d done it now.

“It’s just getting back up to full speed.”

Tonight will be a test of how far he has come when he goes up against Oliver Gildart, Wigan’s England and Great Britain centre who joins Wests Tigers in the NRL at the end of the season.

Huddersfield-born Newman admitted: “He’s a very, very good player.

“He’s struggled with injuries again this year. He’s in a pretty similar position to me; he’ll just want to try and get back to his best.

“It’s a battle I’m looking forward to. It’s competition for England spots in the World Cup and they are the top players you have to play well against if you want to get in that side.

“I am up for it.”

Uncapped Newman is clearly in England coach Shaun Wane’s plans having been involved in his training squads as they prepared for the World Cup this autumn – before it was postponed last month until 2022 due to Australia and New Zealand’s fears over Covid.

In many ways, it has aided Newman’s chances of featuring, giving he will now have far more preparation to prove his fitness and talent.

“Everyone was looking forward to it (the World Cup) and it was disappointing for the game,” he said.

“But on a personal note, it just gives me an extra season to get back to where I want to be.

“And especially when you’re going up against the best players in the world, you don’t want to be going into a World Cup not feeling at your best.

“With a massive pre-season and another full season, as long as I perform next year, it’s probably a good thing for me.”

And Newman does believe he can secure a spot in that 2022 squad.

“I felt from the conversations I’ve had with him (Wane) and the performances I had last year, I was in with a real good chance (of 2021 World Cup),” he said.

“But obviously that injury was devastating.

“I knew that it was going to take a lot to get back to where I was.

“I don’t feel like I’m quite there yet.

“I feel I need a few more games with the skill level, timing and physical side of things.

“But hopefully towards the back end of the season we’ll start to see the best of me again.

“I believe in myself and know with a full pre-season under my belt and next year I’ll put myself right in contention for a (World Cup) spot.”