LEEDS RHINOS’ veteran front-rowers have one more big year in them, chief executive Gary Hetherington insisted today.
The departure of props Ian Kirke and Ryan Bailey – plus second-row Chris Clarkson’s season-long loan move – have raised fears among fans that Rhinos will have to rely too heavily on the Dad’s Army of Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai in 2015.
Peacock will celebrate his 37th birthday next month, with Leuluai reaching a similar milestone in March next year.
Australian recruit Adam Cuthbertson, who is due to begin pre-season training on December 1, can operate anywhere in the pack, but the only other specialist front-rowers in Rhinos’ 24-man squad are Andy Yates – who has yet to play a Super League game – and 22-year-old Brad Singleton.
Hetherington has said he is keen for young players like Singleton – whose new four-year contract was announced yesterday – and Yates to get an opportunity, but stressed he believes Peacock and Leuluai can still power Rhinos’ engine room.
“Everybody keeps telling us they are too old,” he conceded.
“But if you look at the personal data both Kylie Leuluai and Jamie Peacock produced last season, they were certainly well in advance of the majority of their counterparts who are aged 22 to 26.
“Age is not the determining factor. It is performance and ability.”
Hetherington said the same applies to the others in the squad who have passed their 30th birthday. He added: “Jamie Jones-Buchanan had an injury-hit season this year and hopefully he will have a better season next year.
“Certainly our experienced players like Peacock and Leuluai couldn’t have come up with a better season than they did last time.
“There is nothing to suggest next year won’t be as good, if not better, in what will certainly be their last season.”
Bailey has joined Hull KR and Kirke moved to Wakefield Trinity Wildcats, despite both being under contract at Leeds for 2015 and Clarkson will spend next year on loan at Widnes Vikings.
Rhinos have left a place vacant in their 25-man squad and have already failed in a bid to sign prop Lee Mossop, from Parramatta Eels.
He opted to rejoin Wigan Warriors instead, but Hetherington said Rhinos remain on the look-out for a quality recruit.
The chief has outlined a policy to promote youngsters from the club’s academy set-up, but he pledged: “We will always look to bring in quality, experienced players when they become available.
“People like Paul Aiton and Joel Moon are testament to that. We are always prepared to take a chance with players, like we did with Zak Hardaker.
“And of course we are always going to be vigilant and active in the overseas market. We don’t look for just the big names.
“I think in Adam Cuthbertson we have certainly got a player who will give outstanding service and really add a new dimension to the quality of our play next year.”