Blake Austin's arrival means Leeds Rhinos face tough decision over overseas quota admits boss Richard Agar

Leeds Rhinos are facing  a “really tough decision” over which overseas player to let go at the end of this season, coach Richard Agar admits.

By Peter Smith
Friday, 6th August 2021, 6:00 am

Rhinos this week signed Warrington Wolves’ Australian-born stand-off Blake Austin on a one-year contract for 2022.

Despite playing for Great Britain two years ago, Austin will take up one of Rhinos’ seven overseas quota spots.

Another recruit Aidan Sezer will replace Rob Lui, who has already confirmed he will leave the club at the end of this season, but one of centre Konrad Hurrell, prop King Vuniyayawa and second-rower Rhyse Martin will almost certainly have to move on.

Konrad Hurrell on the charge for Rhinos. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.

All three are out of contract in November, but Agar insisted a decision has yet to be made.

Speaking at his weekly press conference ahead of tonight’s home derby against Castleford Tigers, Agar said: “We have two spots left and three guys in Konrad, Rhyse and King who are out of contract.

“We have spoken to every player and to their agents.

“All those guys know exactly where it’s at and it is going to be a really tough decision.

“We would love to keep all the guys on the books, but we have to balance that off with the salary cap - and not just that.

“We feel Blake’s versatility and [lacking] strength in depth in the spine positions is something that’s hurt us and had a bit of an impact this year.

“We think we’ve got enough players all round to really take us forward next year as a a team, but unfortunately three doesn’t go into two.”

Agar is hopeful Rhinos will have a bigger squad next season, but stressed the emphasis will be on bringing young players through from the club’s youth system.

Jack Sinfield, son of club legend Kevin, has signed a professional contract for 2022 and Agar said: “If Covid is still around, the risk of losing people at short notice does put a strain on your squad.

“Coupled with injuries, we have run off 21-22 players most of this year.

“That impacts your training, what you can do and how we’ve had to train.

“We would like to run with a slightly bigger squad.

“We think the way we’ve been able to manage our cap and sign players and retain players will give us scope to run with a slightly bigger squad, but putting a focus on opening up more spots for kids to come in.

“The global forces on the market make it tough, the Australian market is a tough one at the moment and movement in the domestic comp’ is difficult.

“Clubs have got players signed up for a long time.

“There is talk of 14 teams next year, which is going to put even more strain on it.

“The policy we will adopt is quality players coming in - like Blake and Aidan and James Bentley - but also to try and accentuate our youth policy.”

Rhinos will be aiming to strengthen their place in Betfred Super League’s top-six when they square up to Tigers for the third time this season.

Cas won 18-10 at St Helens in April, but Leeds avenged that with a 60-6 away romp the following month.

Agar admitted Rhinos are still hurting from their last-gasp 27-26 loss to Warrington Wolves five days ago.

But he stressed: “We will take some positives from it and dust ourselves off for a local derby this week.

“Cas have had some difficulties with their lineup, but we will expect a strong Cas team for what is always a keenly-fought derby.”

The defeat in May will give Tigers extra motivation and Agar added: “They will have a stronger team out.

“We played really well that night, but we are expecting a better version of Castleford than we saw against Huddersfield on Monday and against us last time.”

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