Leeds Rhinos’ academy changes forced Iwan Stephens’ exit to Newcastle Falcons, says Kevin Sinfield

LEEDS RHINOS are disappointed to lose teenage prospect Iwan Stephens, but their hand was forced by “changes to the competition structure”, director of rugby Kevin Sinfield says.
Leeds Rhinos director of rugby Kevin Sinfield.
 Picture: Jonathan GawthorpeLeeds Rhinos director of rugby Kevin Sinfield.
 Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe
Leeds Rhinos director of rugby Kevin Sinfield. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

The 18-year-old England academy international has switched codes to join rugby union outfit Newcastle Falcons on a two-year deal.

The senior academy will move from under-18s to under-19s next year, the reserve grade competition has been axed and clubs have been told all players in their under-16s scholarship must be taken into the under-17s for 2021.

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“If they had not changed the competition structure – and regulations within that – he would have been offered a contract,” Sinfield said of Stephens.

“We are really disappointed we have had to let him go and we wish him all the best. He is one of several players we have had detailed discussions over internally, but because of a combination of budgets and the number of players in our system next year, we have had to make some really difficult calls.”

Having to include 20 from the scholarship means Rhinos would have too many players to run their youth set-up effectively, without letting some of the current crop go.

Teenage winger Liam Tindall has been promoted into the full-time squad and 16-year- olds Levi Edwards and Morgan Gannon are expected to join him next season.

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Stephens is the son of former Wales, Llanelli and Leeds Tykes fly-half Colin Stephens, who is now director of rugby union at Leeds Beckett University. Top try scorer for Rhinos under-19s last year, he was named in England’s national academy performance squad six months ago.

Falcons academy manager Mark Laycock told the club’s website: “Iwan has a very professional attitude and a good head on his shoulders which, combined with his natural ability, makes him a really exciting signing for us.

“To begin with he will play on the wing while he reacquaints himself with rugby union, but he has all the skills and capabilities to play full-back too in the longer term.”

Stephens was part of Yorkshire Carnegie’s developing player programme up until the age of 15, before switching to league.

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Laycock added: “As coaches it’s also interesting to tap into his knowledge and maybe pick up the odd bit from rugby league and I’m looking forward to working with him.”

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