James Bentley backed to underline his value to Leeds Rhinos

KRUISE LEEMING is backing his Leeds team-mate James Bentley to pick up where he left off last season as the Rhinos prepare for their first pre-season match at home to Wakefield Trinity on Boxing Day.

The Wetherby Whaler Festive Challenge kicks-off at 11.30am a week today (Monday, December 26) and provides a chance for fans of both sides to gauge how the respective pre-seasons are progressing.

Leeds coach Rohan Smith has reshaped the squad after reaching last season’s Grand Final just four months after succeeding Richard Agar in the Headingley hot seat and sparking an upturn in form.

Five of the 17 involved at Old Trafford, where St Helens won 24-12, have departed, with Tom Briscoe and Zak Hardaker joining Leigh, Liam Sutcliffe switching to Hull (who have also signed Brad Dwyer), Bodene Thompson moving to Bradford and Matt Prior retiring.

But Ireland backrower Bentley remains. And Leeming, who captained Leeds in 2022, believes the former Bradford and St Helens player will be a key operator for his home-city club in 2023.

The 25-year-old, who started all three of the Wolfhounds’ World Cup matches, had his first Rhinos run-out in last year’s Boxing Day clash with Wakefield, who were beaten 34-6.

The start of Bentley’s first season with Leeds was littered with suspensions, but he finished it in fine fettle, scoring two tries in the eye-catching 20-8 play-off semi-final win at Wigan.

He is now back in training after a post-World Cup break, and Leeming told the club website: “It’s good to have him around.

“He didn’t start last season how he wanted to and he wants to make amends for that.

“Towards the back end of the year, he was brilliant for us and really important.

“It’s going to be important for him to kick on now and cement himself in the back row, which I’m sure he will do.”

Both England prop Mikolaj Oledzki and newly-signed former Batley fullback Luke Hooley will miss the start of the season after having shoulder and ankle operations respectively.