AUSSIE PROP Mitch Garbutt could make his debut for Leeds Rhinos in next week’s top of the table battle at home to St Helens.
The 26-year-old former Melbourne Storm and Brisbane Broncos forward has signed a contract until the end of 2017 and is due to arrive in Leeds on Saturday.
He will train with Rhinos for the first time two days later and come into contention for the visit of Saints on Friday, July 3.
Garbutt played lower-grade rugby for Newcastle Knights before joining Melbourne in 2012 and then Brisbane ahead of the current campaign.
He has made three appearances for Broncos this year, but was unable to command a regular place and has been granted a release from his contract.
“Mitch has all the makings of being a really good acquisition,” Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington predicted.
“He is a big, strong-running forward with the ability to break the line. [Former Rhinos player] Matt Adamson is a coach in Melbourne’s system and he could not recommend him highly enough, in terms of his character and ability.
“Brian [McDermott, Rhinos’ boss] has looked at footage and spoken with him and we are quite excited by what he can bring to the squad.”
Hetherington insisted Garbutt – who was linked with Parramatta and Manly before opting to join Leeds – has a genuine chance of playing next week.
He added: “He is fit and raring to go. He’s not had much rugby this year, but he has a really good pedigree in terms of having been at Melbourne Storm.
“He was highly sought-after when he joined Brisbane, a number of NRL clubs were after his services. He was signed by Brisbane’s previous coach Anthony Griffin, then Wayne Bennett came in, he was injured, Brisbane were winning most games and he didn’t get into the side.”
Garbutt is Rhinos’ second signing ahead of 2016, after Huddersfield Giants’ Irish international forward Anthony Mullally.
“He is part and parcel of our present and future,” Hetherington said. “We were looking at getting him in for 2016, so to bring him over this year is a bonus.”
Hetherington said recruitment for next season is “an on-going process” and he stressed: “It is still early. Some clubs have pretty much completed their squad, but we have got some flexibility and also good players striving to have a contract for next year, so there’s plenty to ponder.”
Rhinos’ squad faces an overhaul at the end of the year, with skipper/stand-off Kevin Sinfield and props Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai all having confirmed they are leaving the club.
Hetherington has declined to comment on speculation linking Rhinos with several high-profile Australian-based play-makers, including Gareth Widdop and Cooper Cronk, but asked if more signings are imminent, he said: “You never know. Sometimes you think you are close and it doesn’t happen and sometimes things come together quite quickly.”
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Several players who have come through Rhinos’ system are spending this season in the Kingstone Press Championship, but could return to Leeds next year.
Featherstone Rovers’ Jordan Baldwinson, Mason Tonks and Alex Foster are all in the hunt for a contract in 2016, along with Luke Briscoe and James Duckworth at Hunslet Hawks.
Garbutt described himself as “excited” to be joining “such a great club as Leeds”.
He said: “Gary Hetherington and Brian McDermott have been very good with me, they have kept in contact with me while all the paperwork has been sorted and now I can not wait to get over this weekend.
“The Rhinos are such a successful side with a mix of youth and experience and this is a great opportunity to kick on with my own career as part of that group. I have watched the team on television over here and the side are always competitive and, more often than not, come away with the win - which is an exciting thing I want to be part of. “
He added: “I think the style of the game in Super League will complement my natural game. Hopefully I can contribute to the team in any way I can. My wife Ruth and I are really excited about starting a new chapter in our lives along with our 12-week-old son Jordan.
“We can’t wait to land on Saturday and get settled into life in Leeds. I am hoping to hit the ground running as quick as I can. Brian has been talking to me about how the team plays and the role he sees me doing within the group and that is something I have been able to focus on during the last few weeks while the deal has been arranged.”
McDermott said: “We are delighted to welcome Mitch to the club. I have spoken to a number of people in Australia who rate him and the job he can do for a team.
“He is someone I have been looking at for some time and I think his style of play will fit well within our team and the Super League competition. Obviously we are losing some size from our pack next season and had hoped to get Mitch in for 2016.
“However, to be able to bring him in now so he can get settled into life over here in Super League is an added bonus, especially with big games all the way between now and the end of the season.”