Opinion: as injuries mount, talent emerges

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As a clutch of teams’ injury crises have hit Super League in 2018, there are a good many young talents who are taking the opportunities presented to them and Get ’em Onside looks at some of the prospects who are staking claims for first team roles once their clubs have their full squads available…

Hull FC’s injuries in their back division has been well documented and, barring Jamie Shaul, they have been missing each of their first seven squad members in recent weeks. That has seen Hakim Miloudi drafted in on the wing and the unorthodox Frenchman hasn’t looked out of place. Two tries and an assist in his six Super League appearances – one off the bench – including a debut try against Catalans has helped the Airlie Birds maintain their push for a top four place. A man described as talented but erratic by head coach Lee Radford earlier in the season, the 24-year-old is slowly starting to display an element of consistency to go with his clear ability and what seems set to stand Hull FC in good stead is his desire and intention to try to do something anytime he has the ball.

What is also impressive regarding the Airlie Birds is the sheer number of youngsters and locals they have in their ranks. Shaul, Dannys Houghton and Washbrook, Chris Green as well as Scott Taylor and Dean Hadley are all Hull-natives or academy graduates. Now, thanks to the backroom staff and a clear ideology at the club to promote youth, youngsters like Brad Fash, Jack Logan and Masi Matongo have all featured heavily for the club, offering credible and impressive performances in a depleted Airlie Birds outfit – something which is standing them in good stead in the future as well as doing the club proud currently.

Across in West Yorkshire, another team with well-documented injury issues is reigning champions Leeds Rhinos who, currently sitting in a lowly seventh position, are slowly seeing their title slip away from them. Arguably one of the more impressive packs when fully available, the likes of Mikolaj Oledzki and Cameron Smith have featured heavily – possibly more so than the club would have wished at this early stage of their fledgling career. However, while the latter has dug in and put shifts in for the club, 18-year-old Oledzki has been very impressive, punching holes in opposition defences and crossing for his first Super League try for the club in their recent Magic Weekend defeat to Castleford. The highly-rated forward – both Barrie McDermott and Jamie Jones-Buchanan have singled the man of Polish origin out for praise – will be one of Leeds’, and Super League’s, premier props in the future. This season, he is certainly taking his chance in the first team having come through the ranks which will definitely benefit the Rhinos in the future. Himself having joined Leeds’ injury list following a sickening clash of heads on Friday night – his lay off is currently unknown but is has been suggested there isn’t any serious damage – Oledzki will be a big miss for the club but will no doubt be back in the fold once he is fit and ready. Speaking of his youngster, Brian McDermott explained his belief that he – and other coaches – are able to see the quality of youth when injury hits. “It is okay when you’re on top and you slide a young, big fella into your team. But you find out what they are truly like in adversity and when you’re on the back foot.” Ash Handley is another notable youngster who has hit his straps this year with the Rhinos, capitalising on injuries to Liam Sutcliffe and, later, Jimmy Keinhorst to made the left centre berth his own, rising to the top of the club’s try-scorer rankings.

Castleford have also suffered with serious injuries; Ben Roberts has missed a handful of games, disrupting both the full-back and half-back positions, Luke Gale has been ruled out for another couple of months while Greg Eden, James Clare and Jake Webster have missed periods of time in the three quarters. Opportunities, then, have been afforded to some youngsters – when experienced pros haven’t been played out of position, see Michael Shenton – including Calum Turner and Kieran Gill. Turner has been particularly impressive in his two appearances, playing a starring role in last night’s victory over the impressive Warrington vintage of 2018, impressing with the ball in hand and his goal kicking also. Gill has signed a new deal, extending his stay with the 2017 League Leaders’ Shield winners until the end of next season, highlighting the faith the club have in the 22-year-old and his potential. Jake Trueman is another youngster who has demonstrated maturity and confidence beyond his 19 years. Featuring first at full-back, he usurped Ben Roberts in that position as the experienced Samoan moved into the halves and he has since taken his chance there following Roberts’ injury problems – particularly impressing in the aforementioned Magic Weekend victory.

There is a saying that for every crisis, there is an opportunity – that is very clear for the clubs and players mentioned above. What’s more impressive is that – in the cases of Hull FC and Castleford – the clubs haven’t been overly derailed by their injury hit squads, another testament to the quality of the youth coming through the ranks. Perhaps a revamped reserve competition would allow these players, and a lot more besides, to reach the level and intensity of first-team rugby league on a more consistent basis.

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