Leeds hand debut to teenager Hardaker

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The Independent Online

Zak Hardaker, the 19-year-old winger Leeds share with Featherstone, is in line to make his Super League debut for the Rhinos against St Helens this evening.

The Rhinos signed Hardaker from the Championship club at the end of last season, but then immediately loaned him back under the dual registration system. He has been training with both clubs and appeared for Leeds in their pre-season friendlies.

"He has been good in training and he has been going really well for Featherstone," said the Leeds coach, Brian McDermott. "It is timely that he is in a confident mood at the moment, because there is a strong possibility that he will play this week."

Hardaker's chance comes because of the serious shoulder injury that will keep Ben Jones-Bishop out of action for an estimated four months. Jones-Bishop, who himself spent last season out on loan to Harlequins, had been showing impressive form on his return to Headingley, but dislocated the shoulder in last week's victory over Salford.

Lee Smith, who missed that match with a hamstring strain, has been included in today's squad, but he faces a fitness test and is rated as doubtful.

There is no place for Ryan Bailey, who is under investigation by the club following allegations that he posted tasteless jokes about the Japanese earthquake and tsunami on the internet. Leeds, always very conscious of their public image, say they are taking that matter very seriously.

The Australian prop Ben Cross is back for the Rhinos after a one-match suspension and Leeds fans will be looking for him to deliver after a slow start to his Super League career. Rob Burrow, the scrum-half recently recalled to the England squad, makes his 300th Leeds appearance.

Saints have had issues of their own to deal with this week, with the club suspension of the Bath-bound half-back Kyle Eastmond for allegedly making a gesture at fans who were booing him at last week's defeat by Harlequins.

Most people at the club believe that Eastmond has played his last game for them and that it is now better to look to the future. That is likely to mean that his place at Headingley will go to the versatile Gary Wheeler. He has been kept out of first-team contention by injury so far this season, but came safely through the Academy game against Quins last weekend.

Saints' coach, Royce Simmons, who says that his side are performing better away than at their temporary home at Widnes, includes both Tony Puletua and Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook in his squad, but neither is guaranteed to be fit. Shaun Magennis and Andrew Dixon stand by to come into the squad if required.

Ryan Tandy, the much-travelled Australian prop whose English clubs include Whitehaven and Widnes, has been sacked by the Sydney Bulldogs after refusing to answer questions relating to allegations that he placed bets on a match in which he was playing for them. Tandy is already the subject of a police investigation into other "spot-fixing" accusations.

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