NEIL BACK has revealed talismanic skipper Marco Wentzel rebuffed interest from across the globe to stay at Leeds Carnegie – and is hoping other players follow his lead by pinning their colours to the club mast.
The South African lock, 31 – a member of the Premiership Dream Team following a string of superlative displays last term – signed a new two-year deal this week, torpedoing the hopes of several clubs, including Gloucester, who were keen on securing his services.
And head coach Back hopes Wentzel’s decision will tip the scales for a host of players he is currently talking to about their futures, with up to 15 players seeing their deals expire this summer.
These include fly-half Ceiron Thomas, three-quarters Henry Fa’afili and Luther Burrell, prop Gareth Hardy and long-serving forward Rhys Oakley.
And Back admits a positive result in Sunday’s massive basement battle with Newcastle Falcons, will further boost his hand in persuading players to stick with the club.
On the decision of top-notch line-out exponent Wentzel to stay at Carnegie, Back said: “There was interest in Marco from within the Premiership and from France, Japan and from his home country of South Africa.
“Marco has high principles and is very disciplined and a model professional and we’re so pleased he’s signed on again.
“It’s incredible and massive for the club and shows his belief in the club and the future and vision being backed by the board. He was key to that. And When you lose your captain, who is an inspirational player it makes it difficult to retain players.
“But now Marco has committed for the next two years to the club, then those talks become easier.
“Hopefully in the next couple of weeks, we’ll be able to announce further signings with those that are out of contract and those we wish to extend contracts with the club already.
“With recruitment, we’ve (also) said the sooner you consolidate (in the table), the better you are to go into that. That consolidation won’t come for a while, but we know what we have to do and it’s about doing it now.”
Carnegie report mixed injury news ahead of Sunday’s huge clash with Falcons, with no.8 Oakley on the sidelines with a hand injury, while highly-rated forward Tom Denton is also out with a knee injury.
Better news sees strapping 6ft 8in second row Sean Hohneck available for selection after a couple of weeks training under his belt following a nightmare injury spell stretching back to October, with Aussie play-maker Lachlan Mackay and forward Danny Paul also in consideration.
Back said: “It’s been a tough year in terms of injuries and that’s contributed to where we are.
“We thought we’d got over the back of it, but with injuries to Rhys Oakley and Tom Denton a couple of weeks back, it’s not helped us.
“Thankfully now, the likes of Lachlan Mackay, Sean Hohneck and Danny Paul are getting back into contention for selection and that’s great news for the club and the team.
“It’s a real boost, especially with Tom being a second row and a back- rower and having players with the experience of Sean and Danny to call upon.”
The absence of close-season recruit Hohneck in the set-piece has been particularly badly missed by Carnegie, with the big Kiwi having done it tough in the treatment room since suffering an ankle injury in October, with Back grateful the experienced operator is in the mix again, at long last.
On Hohneck, 31, who has made just two starts and two sub appearances since arriving from Italian side Viadana, Back said: “He’s fighting for the opportunity and one person’s disappointment creates an opportunity and responsibility for someone else and that’s potentially what Sean will have this weekend.
“We signed him as a director replacement for Erik Lund and he’s a physical player who is very experienced and has that New Zealand back-row mentality and we’ve missed a bit of his hard-nosed, direct, no-nonsense play.”