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Rugby League

Bright rising Moon has Hall to play for

After quitting Salford for Leeds, Australian centre Joel Moon is eager to link up with the world's best winger, as he tells Dave Hadfield

Nobody encapsulates the contrast between the haves and the have-nots in Super League, which begins its 18th season on Friday night, quite like Joel Moon.

His club of last season, Salford, were almost not in the competition at all this time, having gone to the brink of extinction before a late rescue operation. It is unlikely to keep Moon awake at night, because he will kick off the new campaign with the champions when Leeds face Hull at Headingley.

He is the one high-profile addition to the Rhinos' squad as they try to retain the title they have won for the last two years and for five of the last six. Leeds have not been short of quality in their back line over the last few seasons, but already they are licking their lips at the prospect of teaming Moon up with Ryan Hall, their exciting England flanker.

His new centre partner has no doubts about how good Hall is. "He's the best winger in the world," says Moon simply. "Up against any other winger, I'd choose him every time. Any centre would want to play inside him. I'm looking forward to it and it was a factor in coming here. Just give him the ball and let's see what he can do.

"Hopefully, we can get a combination going. We're just finding out how each other plays and going from there."

Last season, without Moon's help, Hall managed 33 tries for Leeds and was the only British-based player selected in the prestigious World XIII. That scoring tally was largely achieved alongside Zak Hardaker, who has since emerged as the Rhinos' first-choice full-back, and Carl Ablett, who is probably even more useful to them in the pack.

Moon is perhaps better regarded as a direct replacement for Keith Senior, the long-serving England centre who retired through injury a year ago. The player whose style he most recalls, however, is Jamie Lyon, a fellow Australian who caused havoc during his stint at St Helens. Like Lyon, Moon is a master of what has become an essential skill for the modern attacking centre – the one-handed, back-flicked pass to release his wingman.

That party trick can open up another dimension for Hall. "I should imagine Hally will be getting some passes he wouldn't normally expect," says the Leeds head coach, Brian McDermott. "He's a lucky man."

Moon, a 24-year-old Queenslander, did not really make it as a utility player, either with his local club, the Brisbane Broncos, or across the Tasman Sea with the New Zealand Warriors. As a specialist centre with Salford last year, however, he was a revelation.

"I had a pretty good year and played some good footy," he said. "I made the Exiles team so I was pretty excited about that and it's one of my goals this year too."

Unfortunately for Salford, he made it plain before the end of last season that he would not be pursuing that goal with them, despite their belief that they had him on a two-year deal.

In fact, his evasiveness over his plans and his eventual signing for Leeds have thoroughly irritated them at the City Reds.

"He kept saying he was homesick," said the Salford coach, Phil Veivers. "I suppose Leeds is a little bit closer to Australia than Salford is..."

Moon sees it rather as a case of taking advantage of last year's outstanding form.

"There were a few things up in the air, but I weighed up what would be best for me and my family, so I came here. It's a great club and I'm really enjoying it," he said.

Moon took soundings from some fellow Australians in the know before deciding on his next move.

"I've spoken to a few ex-Leeds players and they say it's a great club," he said. "They still live here so there must be a reason why. They couldn't say enough about the place and the club."

Moon aside, the Rhinos' overseas recruitment this year looks unspectacular. Their other two additions are young, British-qualified Australians in Joe Vickery and Mitch Achurch. Either of them could turn out to be a great success – and the little-known Vickery has scored plenty of tries in the pre-season – but at the moment those two signings are comprehensively eclipsed by Moon.

Starting with his Super League debut for the Rhinos against Hull this Friday, they will be looking to him to be a match-winner who can get them out of the habit of having a dangerous mid-season slump on their way to the Grand Final. Leeds have won the title for the last two years despite their rampant inconsistency, but they do not kid themselves that they can continue to do that.

They are already without one of their most talented young backs, Ben Jones-Bishop, for the opening weeks of the season and have had to return on-loan hooker Shaun Lunt to Huddersfield, so it is to Moon they will look for the extra potency this year.

Of course, Leeds' potential problems are as nothing compared to those of his former club. Although the rescue mission for Salford has been working its laborious way to a resolution in time for Friday's big kick-off against Wigan, there is no guarantee that they will have a truly competitive side, either then or later in the season.

If he is realistic, Moon will not expect the warmest of welcomes when he goes back to the Salford City Stadium on 9 August, but he insists that he wishes his first English club well.

"I've been looking at what's been happening and talked to a few of the guys there," he says.

"Now they've got a new owner, so hopefully it goes well. They're great players there, so I just hope for the best for them."