Blake Austin: Assessing what Leeds Rhinos' new star signing will offer in 2022
Of the four signings Leeds Rhinos have made for 2022, Blake Austin is the most intriguing and high profile.
The Australian stand-off has taken a pay cut to join Leeds after three seasons as a marquee player with Warrington Wolves.
When he left NRL side Canberra Raiders to join Warrington ahead of the 2019 campaign, he was immediately tipped to become that season’s Man of Steel.
Austin topped the leader board for much of the campaign, until suffering an ankle injury which kept him out of Warrington’s Challenge Cup final win over St Helens.
He was, however, less effective in the final two years of his contract.
Warrington’s decision to sign George Williams, after the England play-maker’s shock exit from Canberra, left no place in the squad for Austin and Leeds were quick to step in.
Though his initial contract is for one year only, Austin has said he is hoping for a longer stay at Emerald Headingley and there is no doubting his credentials.
The 30-year-old is vastly experienced, having made his NRL debut for Penrith Panthers in 2011.
He spent the 2014 season with Wests Tigers before a move to Canberra, being named Dally M five-eighth of the year - the best in the NRL in that position - at the end of his debut campaign.
Austin, who turned down Raiders’ offer of a new contract in order to move to England, made a try scoring first appearance for Warrington against Rhinos in round one of the 2019 Super League season.
He was Dream Team stand-off that year and Man of Steel runner-up, his form - controversially - earning him a call-up to England’s squad for the end of season Sydney Nines.
Austin, who qualified through a grandparent, then linked up with Great Britain on their disastrous southern hemisphere tour, making two Test appearances.
Bizarrely, both were on the left-wing, Austin being preferred to Leeds’ Ash Handley - who had flown out to Papua New Guinea as an emergency replacement - for the tour’s finale.
Despite the Lions’ woeful performances, Austin made a positive impression on Kevin Sinfield who at the time was combining a role at the RFL with duties as Rhinos’ director of rugby.
With Luke Gale contracted for 2022 and another half-back, Aidan Sezer, having been added to the squad, Austin wasn’t an obvious target for Leeds and it’s not yet clear exactly where he will fit into the side next year.
Assuming both are fit and if nothing changes, Sezer and Gale are likely to be Rhinos’ starting six and seven for their opening game, with Austin featuring where needed.
He certainly adds strength in depth to the halves, which Rhinos lacked in 2021 and has experience of playing alongside Sezer during their time together at Canberra.
Rhinos coach Richard Agar won’t want to use him on a wing, but he could operate at full-back, centre, second-row - as he did at times for Warrington this year -or loose-forward.
Wherever he plays, Austin is a proven match-winner.
His running game is his greatest strength and where he can be most effective for Rhinos, leaving Gale and Sezer to do the organising.
He is a try scorer, can kick drop goals and, after his Warrington exit, has a point to prove.
The one-year contract means it is a relatively risk-free arrangement and if he can get back to the form he showed at times in the NRL and during his first season with Warrington, might prove an inspired addition.
Support the YEP and become a subscriber today. Enjoy unlimited access to local news and the latest on Leeds United, With a digital subscription, you see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Click here to subscribe.