Leeds Rhinos turn to youth for Wakefield clash


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The Independent Online

Leeds Rhinos fans will witness a changing of the guard on Boxing Day when the Super League champions face Wakefield in the Heatshot Festive Challenge at Headingley.

The new, youthful centre pairing of Kallum Watkins and Zak Hardaker will line up for the first time as Leeds officially begin life after Keith Senior, the veteran three-quarter who has been a mainstay of the side for the last decade.

While Hardaker was a member of Leeds' Grand-Final winning side in October, Watkins will be making his first appearance since the Challenge Cup final in August and both will be out to cement starting places for 2012.

Coach Brian McDermott said: "I am looking forward to seeing Zak and Kallum alongside each other in the centres.

"Both are blessed with a great deal of pace but also have a good understanding of the game."

With McDermott resting all eight members of the England Four Nations squad, Rob Burrow, Chris Clarkson - who today signed a new five-year contract - and Ian Kirke are the only other survivors from Old Trafford, while front-row recruits Richard Moore and Darrell Griffin - both former Wakefield players - will make their first appearances for the club.

New Wildcats coach Richard Agar has named no fewer than 14 of his club's 18 close-season signings in a 20-man squad, including former Leeds full-back Richard Mathers.

Australia NRL recruits Isaac John, Tim Smith, Steve Southern and Dean Collis are also among the host of newcomers for the visitors.

Another club with a raft of new faces are Widnes, who warm up for their return to Super League with a traditional Boxing Day derby at Warrington.

Coach Denis Betts is set to field eight new signings, including hooker Scott Moore, whose last match was for St Helens in the Grand Final, and ex-Crusaders trio Hep Cahill, Lloyd White and Frank Winterstein.

Warrington will have new signing Stefan Ratchford renewing his old Salford half-back partnership with Richie Myler, while ex-Leigh prop Chris Hill will also make his first appearance.

Wolves coach Tony Smith said: "It's fantastic that Widnes are back in Super League and it creates a local derby for us once again."

It will be Warrington's only match before they fly out to Australia for a three-week training camp, culminating in a game against South Sydney on January 28.

New Castleford coach Ian Millward has named three new signings in his team to play Bradford, also on Boxing Day.

They are centre Josh Griffin, prop Steve Nash and second rower Lee Mitchell while academy half-back Ben Johnson starts at scrum-half in place of Danny Orr, who has a calf strain.

Bradford will give a run-out to new recruit Manase Manuokafoa, as well as trialist Phil Joseph and Academy internationals John Bateman and Liam McAvoy.