David Fusitu'a: Update on when Leeds Rhinos' new signing is due at pre-season training

Leeds Rhinos' new winger David Fusitu’a is still awaiting his visa, but expected to arrive in England early in pre-season and could feature in the Boxing Day game against Wakefield Trinity.

Thursday, 18th November 2021, 8:00 am

All Leeds’ other overseas players are in this country and - other than Liam Sutcliffe who is recovering from a knee injury - Rhinos will have a clean bill of health when training starts on Monday, chief executive Gary Hetherington says.

Fusitu’a, signed from New Zealand Warriors, is Rhinos’ only addition from an overseas club ahead of the 2022 campaign.

Restrictions on travel to and from Australia, where Warriors were based last season, have had an impact on Leeds’ latest recruit, who has signed a two-year contract and will wear the number two shirt.

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David Fusitu'a, seen on the attack for Tonga against Australia, will arrive in England once he receives a visa. Picture by Andrew Cornaga/www.photosport.nz/Photosport /SWpix,com.

“He has effectively been stranded in Australia,” Hetherington said.

“All his family are in New Zealand, but he is part of the Warriors who are camped in Australia and have not been able to go back into New Zealand because of quarantine restrictions and everything else.

“We are waiting for his visa as well so there’s a few plates spinning with David.

“The plan, ideally, was for him to go back to see his family in New Zealand and then fly to the UK as soon as he gets his visa, which we are hoping is going to be quite imminent.”

Liam Sutcliffe will be the only player on Rhinos' casualty list at the start of pre-season. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.

That will rule Fusitu’a out of the start of pre-season, but Hetherington said: “He is keen to come as soon as possible, with his partner and child, even if it means not going back to New Zealand.

“That’s a distinct possibility and is what we are working through at the moment.

“We are waiting to get his visa before we can book his flight, but the plan is for him to be here as soon as possible and certainly for Boxing Day.”

Hetherington stressed: “He meets all the criteria [for a visa].

Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington. Picture by Gary Longbottom.

“It just takes time, there is a process to go through.”

Australian signings Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer both played in Betfred Super League in 2021 and have remained in this country during the off-season, along with Rhinos’ established overseas players.

“With what’s going on in Australia and New Zealand, [returning home] is so problematic and expensive for them - with the cost of flights,” Hetherington said.

“So on Monday we will have almost a full squad, including most of the new fellas.

“Apart from Liam Sutcliffe, everybody has a clean bill of health, which is quite remarkable, really, coming into a new pre-season.

“On Boxing Day the head coach will have a rare problem in terms of a team selection poser. We will certainly have a very strong side out.”

Rhinos have a new look behind the scenes. Hetherington said: “There has been significant change in the backroom staff and that is still on-going in terms of finalising those appointments.

“John Bastian [player pathway development manager] is a new appointment; he is up and running and [performance director] Richard Hunwicks is another new appointment, back at the club after a 10 year absence.

“It will be a very refreshed and reinvigorated team.”

Rhinos’ squad numbers were announced last week and the chief executive described the new roster as “in terms of balance, the best squad we have had for a long time”.

He said: “It’s a good mix of experience and youth. A lot of our younger players have matured over the last year/18 months, they’ve got good game time under their belt and it is a really competitive squad as well.

“There’s a lot of competition for places.”

Rhinos are set to play four pre-season games, beginning on Boxing Day.

“We are just in the process of finalising those,” Hetherington added. “They are a real opportunity for players to stake their claim for a place in the first [Super League] game.”

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