The row over the future of highly-rated half-back Ryan Brierley has taken a new twist.
Leigh Centurions have threatened to report Rhinos to the RFL if they make an approach to the Kingstone Press Championship player of the year - and have also warned them off prop Sam Barlow.
Centurions last week claimed “someone” at Leeds had made contact with Brierley, who is contracted until 2016.
But in a statement, Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington categorically denied “any interest” in the former Castleford Tigers academy player and said it was Brierley’s agent who approached Leeds.
Now, with Leigh set to begin pre-season training as a full-time club on Monday, Centurions head of rugby Derek Beaumont has issued his own statement.
The text of the statement reads: “Amidst continual speculation surrounding Ryan Brierley and Sam Barlow, most recently documented in the Yorkshire Evening Post and a subsequent statement from Leeds Rhinos CEO Gary Hetherington on the club’s official website I wish to make the following clear.
“I am disappointed at the continual need to dig for stories surrounding Ryan Brierley, who is contracted to us until November 2016. In particular not only is it unsettling for him, it is also unfair on him as a young man. I was disappointed with Gary Hetherington’s comments in his statement, as he has shown total disregard to Ryan’s welfare. He has seemingly hung him out to dry in front of his own fans by creating the impression that Ryan wanted to leave Leigh in what appears to be a bid to protect his own club from having approached one of my players.
“The fact of the matter is whether Ryan’s agent contacted Leeds or not (something he denies to me) Leeds rang Ryan directly, resulting in me speaking to them and it ending there. Any club should only ever speak to another club’s contracted player once permission is given to them to talk with the player. This protocol was not followed.
“I spoke to Ryan about any interest from Leeds which there wasn’t. Ryan has always been honest with me throughout and has made it clear he does not want to leave Leigh and if he did he would have no problem in coming telling me that he did. We have a relationship where he can approach me in that way. He is confident in Paul’s [coach Paul Rowley] vision for him and the progress he has made.
“He also knows that if the time comes where he has progressed to that level and we haven’t as a club then we wouldn’t hold him back. But I am confident we will all reach the required standard in unison.”
Regarding Barlow, who is contracted to Leigh until November 2019, Beaumont added: “I have had further unsettlement surrounding Sam Barlow over the last few days which is also unwelcome, but I don’t wish to go further into that now, as it has been nipped in the bud.
“There are rules surrounding players’ contracts and if they are not adhered to there can be serious consequences. Despite having significant evidence of breaches of these rules on two of my players I am satisfied that my amiable conversation with Gary will be sufficient so as not to have to involve the RFL on the matter.
“However, I reserve the right in the future should this happen again which I am confident it now will not. I addressed the players at the Players’ Meeting last Friday ahead of us starting back tomorrow (Monday) and made it clear that I will not be entering into negotiations for extending contracts until the end of next season. I will not be entertaining any approaches for my players irrespective of who the club is and how much is on offer.
“The majority of our squad are on two-year contracts with a few on one-year contracts with our option on the second. Contracts must be respected and if they can just be dismissed or bought out there is no point in them.
“We are building something special and to do that we need to plan ahead. The security of that planning is by way of contracts. We have a squad about which we are very excited and nobody is going to break that under any circumstances. “If I was offered one million pounds for Ryan or Sam tomorrow I wouldn’t sell them. It’s that simple. I have never received a financial offer for either as the amount is irrelevant when you are not prepared to sell.
“Whilst some people think everything has a price, unfortunately for them my goal of seeing Leigh Centurions achieving Super League status is worth more to me than any sum of money. I hope we are now left to start work tomorrow where we can focus on our single-minded approach to achieving our goals, the first of which is to have a solid pre-season. We are all very excited and looking forward to working in a full-time environment which is something we have worked very hard to achieve.
“Our squad for the 2015 season is now settled and complete and we will announce the final member of the Leigh Centurions squad on or about 1 December 2014.”
Hetherington’s statement, issued on Rhinos’ website last week, read: “I can categorically state that we have no interest in signing Ryan Brierley from Leigh Centurions.
“The players’ agent has contacted us to make us aware that Ryan wishes to join us but we are not looking to sign a half-back as we have four top class options in that position with Kevin Sinfield, Danny McGuire, Rob Burrow and Liam Sutcliffe for next season already and an outstanding prospect in our academy in Jordan Lilley.
“It is inevitable that we get linked with players through the media and I can assure our fans that, in almost every case, the rumour has no foundation. I have spoken to Centurions head of rugby Derek Beaumont and reassured him that we are not in the market for his player or any other half-back for that matter.
“Our priority is to develop players through our ranks and then to reward and retain them. We have always operated on a policy of reviewing players annually and elevating their contract to recognise the improvements they have made rather than when their contracts are due to expire and that is very much our focus at the moment rather than bringing players in from other clubs.”