Leeds Rhinos head into their final pre-season game this weekend when they make the trip to face Hull KR and they’re hoping that it will set the tone for the season, with coach Rohan Smith naming his ‘strongest squad’.
Pre-season is a time for experimenting but one man who has done it more than most of Rhinos’ head coach Rohan Smith, the Australian taking advantage of his first pre-season at Headingley to test combinations.
Those experiments have seen a heavy reliance on youth, Ash Handley at full-back and even Morgan Gannon in the halves but Sunday’s squad is one that’s far more familiar to fans.
Barring the injured Nene Macdonald and Harry Newman in the centres and England prop Mikolaj Oledzki, the Rhinos are at close to full strength with Smith expressing excitement to see one particular player.
Leeds Rhinos Head Coach Rohan Smith has named the strongest squad of the pre-season campaign so far for this Sunday’s trip to Hull KR, kick off 3pm.
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David Fusitu’a has been subject to a rumour of unhappiness with reports down under suggesting he favours a return to the NRL.
Back-to-back late pull outs or no-shows from matchday squads had furthered that rumour, something that Fusitu’a quashed, but Smith has named him for Sunday and is keen to get his man back on the field.
“We’re going to field our strongest team, a few less changes, a bit more cohesion and a bit more chemistry hopefully. We’ll take it up a notch as we get ready for round one,” the Australian told Rhinos’ Youtube channel.
“Fuss has had a really good couple of weeks of training, I was hoping to get him some time against Leigh the other week but that didn’t work out. He’s got some miles in his legs and work under his belt there so I’m looking forward to him playing centre this week and see what he makes of that.”
One man who had been deputising at centre for periods was Luis Roberts, signed from Leigh, and both Roberts and fellow signing Leon Ruan saw particular praise from Smith.
“I’m super impressed with a really young brigade that started that first week in November. They set the tone for how we were going to go about things and they showed senior players about how things were going to be done around the building.
“I think a lot of those kids are progressing towards future Super League but we’ll still some fringe players. I think Luis Roberts and Leon Ruan particularly, those kids have really progressed nicely in the last little bit.”
Roberts has been excellent during the pre-season and even scored against former side Leigh in the previous pre-season game as he dummied his way past former Rhinos’ full-back Zak Hardaker.
Smith added: “Yeah I’m not surprised, I saw some footage of him from a few years ago and he caught my eye. Then I went and watched him play and I had a conversation with him over at Leigh,.
“He’s a great character, a good person in general as well as being a big athletic kid that loves playing footy so he’s done well. It’s still early days for him and we’re playing the long game. He’s got a two-year deal so there’s no real rush.”
With Roberts outlined for such high praise it could be that he’s seen sooner rather than later in Super League, particularly if the injuries to Macdonald and Newman drag on.