Leeds Rhinos: Hardaker is the No 1 choice for McDermott

SHIRT SWAP: Rhinos ace Zak Hardaker will be wearing the No 1 jersey worn by Brent Webb last term.

SHIRT SWAP: Rhinos ace Zak Hardaker will be wearing the No 1 jersey worn by Brent Webb last term.

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England star Zak Hardaker is Leeds Rhinos’ new No 1.

The YEP Shooting Star’s transition from centre to full-back has seen him rewarded with the Rhinos No 1 jersey, which was worn by Brent Webb from 2007 to last season.

Recruit Joel Moon takes over at No 4 and there are only two other top-20 changes in Rhinos’ 2013 squad numbers, which were confirmed today.

Stevie Ward, who won a Grand Final ring in his debut campaign this year, is promoted from 25 to 14 in place of Lee Smith – who has joined Wakefield Trinity Wildcats – and new signing Mitch Achurch takes on Castleford Tigers acquisition Weller Hauraki’s No 19.

German international Jimmy Keinhorst, who made six senior appearances last season, moves up from 32 to 22, taking over from Jay Pitts, who joined Hull mid-way through last term.

Unlike previous years, Rhinos have not allocated any numbers below 24.

No 25 will be awarded at the end of pre-season to one of the young players who has trained with the full-time squad over the winter. Candidates for that include trialist Joe Vickery.

Coach Brian McDermott said Hardaker’s new number was well-earned.

“The No 4 shirt he had last season was a fairly prestigious number,” said McDermott.

“Keith Senior – a great player – had that for many years and I know Zak felt special about it.

“Zak will be our full-back next year, he’s been given No 1 and he thoroughly deserves it.”

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McDermott stressed squad numbers do not guarantee a place in the 17 every week – or indicate which role any particular player will fill.

“Squad numbers mean a lot to players,” the coach said. “Some players really value their number and they’ve had that number for a lot of years.

“I get it how it means a lot to players and it means a lot to fans as well. There’s a lot of history with some of these numbers.

“It is nice for Zak to get the No 1, but he will have to keep earning it and keep putting in performances, like he did last year.”

McDermott admitted he did consider moving Kevin Sinfield from No 13 to six, to reflect his current starting role in the side.

“That was looked at between Gary (Hetherington, Rhinos’ chief executive) and myself,” he conceded.

“It would be wrong not to look into it, but Kev has had the No 13 for a lot of years and he personifies that.

“He is playing stand-off, but in terms of what the No 13 means to him and the team, we decided not to change.

“Maybe Kev could have gone from 13 to six, Danny McGuire from six to seven and Rob Burrow from seven to nine, but I don’t think we need to do that.

“Rob’s earned his shirt and he’s probably spending as much time 
at seven during games as he does at nine. He’s just starting the game at seven.

“There’s more worth keeping them to their old numbers.”

Rhinos’ squad numbers for 2013 are:

No 1 Zak Hardaker (last year Brent Webb), 2 Ben Jones-Bishop, 3 Kallum Watkins, 4 Joel Moon (Zak Hardaker), 5 Ryan Hall, 6 Danny McGuire, 7 Rob Burrow, 8 Kylie Leuluai, 9 Paul McShane, 10 Jamie Peacock, 11 Jamie Jones-Buchanan, 12 Carl Ablett, 13 Kevin Sinfield, 14 Stevie Ward (Lee Smith), 15 Brett Delaney, 16 Ryan Bailey, 17 Ian Kirke, 18 Chris Clarkson, 19 Mitch Achurch (Weller Hauraki), 20 Darrell Griffin, 21 Richard Moore, 22 Jimmy Keinhorst (Jay Pitts), 23 Brad Singleton, 24 Liam Hood, 25 Unallocated (Stevie Ward).

Meanwhile, Rhinos have signed 18-year-old winger or full-back Jacob Morgan from the South Wales Scorpions.

Youth boss Barrie McDermott said: “Jacob is a quick, young prospect who is studying at Leeds University.”