Here's why Leeds Rhinos signed King Vuniyayawa - and who else they looked at

Coach Richard Agar has explained why Leeds Rhinos signed Fijian prop King Vuniyayawa - and confirmed some of the other players they considered.

Friday, 5th February 2021, 2:01 pm

King’s signing came out of the blue, but Agar reckons Rhinos have added a young, highly-motivated player who will make an impact in attack and defence.

The 25-year-old was signed last month and is Rhinos’ second off-season addition, after New Zealand Test front-rower Zane Tetevano.

Tetevano effectively replaces Ava Seumanufagai, who left the club for personal reasons and Vuniyayawa has come in for Adam Cuthbertson following his move to York City Knights.

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King Vuniyayawa training with New Zealand Warriors. Picture by Andrew Cornaga /www.photosport.nz/SWpix.com.

Agar said Rhinos spoke to “about 10 players” during the recruitment process, including ex-Catalans Dragons forward Remi Casty and Sam Moa.

Agnatius Paasi, who later joined St Helens, was considered before Rhinos signed their “first-choice” Tetevano and the Yorkshire Evening Post understands Korbin Sims, who eventually signed for Hull KR, was another potential option.

Vuniyayawa, who made five NRL appearances for New Zealand Warriors last season, is less well known, but Agar is excited by the Fijian’s potential.

“He is a really good kid, we have had a really good look at him and we’re looking forward to getting him here,” Agar said of Vuniyayawa, has received his work permit and is expected to arrive within the next two weeks.

Zane Tetevano. Picture by Steve McArthur/www.photosport.nz/SWpix.com.

“I saw him play in reserve grade when I was over there and I thought he had two really sound and solid years in reserve grade playing for the Warriors.

“One thing we liked about him is his perseverance and resilience; he has had to fight and hang in the system there, but eventually he got his break last year and in the five games he played on the trot at the start of the season we looked at him and we think he gives us something we’d like in our squad.”

Agar noted: “He has got great leg speed and athleticism and he is a very solid player.

“He has a solid body - I know he is a bigger size, but Stanley Gene-esque - so when he carries the ball you know you’ve got to tackle him and we think he can certainly add some sting defensively.

Rhinos coach Richard Agar makes a point at training. Picture by Phil Daly/Leeds Rhinos.

“At 25 he has still got lots of his career in front of him. Yes, he is inexperienced at first team level, but you have got to take into account that we’ve got Matty Prior who is vastly experienced, Zane Tetavano is very experienced and so is Bodene Thompson.”

Agar revealed: “When we were looking to add more depth to our middles, we considered do we get a more experienced player in?

“We spoke to Remi Casty and also to Sam Moa.

“Sammy was down the line in joining Lezignan at the time and the time scale of things ruled some people in and some out, but Zane is here for three years, Matty’s got an option on his contract for a further year and Bodene is here for two years so we feel we have got plenty of experience.

“We love the way Mik Oledzki’s going, but we have also got some younger middles, as in Tommy Holroyd.

“We want a pathway for him and with also Cameron Smith and Jarrod O’Connor and James Donaldson we have got some different types and shapes and sizes of middles.

“We felt [we wanted to] get someone who could come off the bench and scatter a few and rattle a few cages defensively.”

A short-term contract gives both club and player an opportunity to test the water this season.

“King is on a one-year deal, he is hungry and he has got a World Cup to aim for at the end of the year,” Agar added.

“He is highly motivated and we have seen plenty of potential in him.

“It is a tough market for middles and we definitely thought King was worth an opportunity.

“We had a bit of a choice, do we go for a guy at the other end of his career to give us some more experience?

“But we felt we’d got enough in there, we felt King was a guy who could potentially turn into a longer-term player for us.”

Strengthening their middle unit was Rhinos’ off-season priority and Agar feels, in Tetevano and Vuniyayawa, they have done that.

“We have got plenty of game time in a lot of our middles,” he said.

“Matty can play big minutes, so can Cam, so will Zane.

“Mik Oledzki gradually last year put in some 55-60 minute displays and is really good for 40 minutes at least at the moment.

“Tommy Holroyd got himself in a much better physical condition last year and will continue to develop.

“With the way the game’s going we also see Bodene playing some time in the middle for us so we are happy with the depth we’ve got and the mix of styles we’ve got in there too.”