Strength in Depth: Rhinos chief Gary Hetherington says the club can cope with the close season changes to its squad. Peter Smith reports.
CHIEF EXECUTIVE Gary Hetherington insists Leeds Rhinos’ policy of promoting from within will not leave them lagging behind other clubs who have splashed out on signings for 2015.
Leeds are set to go into next year’s campaign with only one new face in their senior squad, Australian forward Adam Cuthbertson – but Hetherington reckons retaining the majority of their Challenge Cup-winning side and adding several young prospects leaves Rhinos in a strong position.
“Our policy is first and foremost to develop players and to give them an opportunity in the first team, if they are good enough and then to reward them for progressing in the game and ultimately to retain them,” Hetherington said after Rhinos’ 2015 squad numbers were announced.
“That is what we have done with the vast majority of our top players. The squad make-up is always about a balance between retention and replacement. So for 2015 out of our top-20 we have lost Ben Jones-Bishop, Chris Clarkson, Ryan Bailey and Ian Kirke.
“But in their places come Jimmy Keinhorst, Brad Singleton, Liam Sutcliffe and the new signing Adam Cuthbertson.
“The other 16 players have all been retained and they are our star international players.
“That is something of a novelty. Yes, other Super League teams have made more signings than us, but they have been signings to replace players – and in most cases good players – they’ve lost.
“St Helens, for example, have signed Travis Burns, but lost the services of Sia Soliola and Willie Manu.
“Warrington have made a great signing in Daryl Clark, but that’s to replace an outstanding player in Michael Monaghan. Ashton Sims has come in, but to replace Trent Waterhouse, who has been a great servant for Warrington.
“Wigan, who you’d expect to be up there, have signed Lee Mossop, but effectively that’s to replace Blake Green. We are aware other clubs have made signings, but they are to replace quality players they have lost.
“In our case we’ve retained all our top players and we are now able to give an opportunity to people like Brad Singleton, Liam Sutcliffe and Jimmy Keinhorst, who have all shown themselves to be outstanding Super League players.”
Cuthbertson, who can play anywhere in the forwards, is due to begin his Leeds career on December 1 following a move from Newcastle Knights.
“I believe he will be a terrific signing, not only for Leeds Rhinos, but also for Super League,” Hetherington predicted.
“I think he brings not only experience and a hard edge – he is a terrific competitor – but also he has great skill as well.
“In the same way as James Graham is beginning to change the thinking about how the game can be played by prop-forwards in Australia, with his handling skills, I think Adam Cuthbertson could bring those qualities to our game in Super League and have that sort of effect here as well.”
Hetherington confirmed Rhinos were interested in Mossop – who spent this year at Parramatta Eels – before he opted to rejoin Wigan Warriors.
The ex-England prop is understood to have had a medical at Leeds last week, but was deterred by the prospect of travelling from his home in Wigan.
“We have left one vacancy within our 25-man squad,” Hetherington added. “That will be filled towards the start of the season.
“It’s likely to be filled by one of our outstanding young players who’s not in the squad, or it could be a newcomer – it could be a player who emerges from another club or from Australia or New Zealand, if that player fits the bill and our coach Brian McDermott thinks he will add value to our squad.
“We have retained the ability to bring in a player. The departure of Ryan Bailey and Ian Kirke has given us a bit of flexibility to do that.”
Young forwards Mason Tonks and Jordan Baldwinson are training with Leeds after returning from a stint with New Zealand Warriors last term and then a spell on loan at Bradford Bulls.
Others who are too old for the under-19s but remain on Leeds’ books are Thomas Minns and Alex Foster (who played for London Broncos this year), James Duckworth (London and Hunslet), Luke Briscoe (Wakefield and Hunslet) and Rob Mulhern.
Hetherington said: “All our first team squad – the top-25 – are effectively dual-registered with Hunslet Hawks.
“Our policy is that our reserve grade is our academy and that’s where Brian McDermott will be looking to give people an opportunity, like he did with Elliot Minchella, Robbie Ward, Josh Walters, Ash Handley and Ashton Golding last season.
“In between the academy and the first team we have got a group of players we see as potential Leeds Rhinos first team players. They are too old for the academy and not in the first team squad, but they are all striving to be in the Rhinos’ squad in 2016.
“They are all either contracted to the Rhinos for 2016 or we have an option on their services.
“They will be spending 2015 with another club and our primary objective there is their own personal development.
“They are all very good players who will certainly have a career in rugby league.
“They are all training with us at the moment and they’ll get the best-possible preparation for the new season.”
Leeds Rhinos squad numbers 2015
1: Zak Hardaker, Full-back, age 23
2: Tom Briscoe, Winger, age 24
3: Kallum Watkins, Centre, age 23
4: Joel Moon, Centre, age 26
5: Ryan Hall, Winger, age 26
6: Danny McGuire, Stand-off/scrum-half, age 31
7: Rob Burrow, Scrum-half/hooker, age 32
8: Kylie Leuluai, Prop, age 36
9: Paul Aiton, Hooker, age 29
10: Jamie Peacock, Prop, age 36
11: Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Second-row, age 33
12: Carl Ablett, Second-row, age 28
13: Kevin Sinfield, Stand-off, age 34
14: Stevie Ward, Loose-forward, age 20
15: Brett Delaney, Second-row, age 29
16: Mitch Achurch, Second-row, age 26
17: Adam Cuthbertson, Utility-forward, age 29
18: Liam Sutcliffe, Stand-off/loose-forward, age 19
19: Brad Singleton, Prop, age 22
20: Jimmy Keinhorst, Centre, age 24
21: Josh Walters, Back-row, age 19
22: Andy Yates, Prop, age 24
23: Elliot Minchella, Back-row, age 18
24: Robbie Ward, Hooker, age 19