Leeds Rhinos at start of 'new era' says chief as players get set for pre-season return
Chief executive Gary Hetherington says Leeds Rhinos are at the beginning of a ‘new era’.
Pre-season for the 2022 campaign starts next week, with the players back in on Monday before their first on-field training session the following day.
Rhinos have a new-look squad, including four signings - David Fusitu’a, Blake Austin, Aidan Sezer and James Bentley - plus two youngsters, Oli Field and Jack Sinfield, promoted from the academy.
Konrad Hurrell, Rob Lui, Luke Gale, King Vuniyayawa, Alex Sutclife, Callum McLelland and Luke Briscoe have all moved on since the end of last year.
Off the field, Rhinos are hoping for a full season with no crowd limit at Headingley for the first time since the stadium was rebuilt.
Demolition and rebuilding of the South Stand at the end of 2017 and North Stand two years later cut the stadium’s capacity and then Covid struck soon after work was completed, leading to games being played behind closed doors and later with restricted attendances.
The new signings are likely to feature in the Christmas challenge game against Wakefield Trinity and Hetherington insisted: “Having missed out on Boxing Day last year we want to make it a really festive occasion and that, in many ways, will be the start of a new era.
“It feels like that on and off the field. We have an outstanding squad now - which we have added a lot of ability and desire to. I look at our young players and this is the best crop we have had for 20 years, I believe.
“We now need to convert all this optimism and confidence into reality and results - in terms of crowds and also winning performances from the team.”
The stadium will be fully open from the start of the 2022 campaign and Hetherington added: “We are hoping for really strong membership numbers.
“Our fans have been so supportive over the last several years during all our problems and difficulties with Covid and before that with the stadium redevelopment.
“We have had four years of real disruption, so we all feel this is our first real go at it for four years. It is quite refreshing and exciting for us at the Rhinos and I hope that’s the same for all our fans.
“We want all our existing members to renew and hopefully we’ll get some coming back as well.”
Hetherington reported “a really strong start” to season ticket sales.
“We are really pleased with that,” he added.
“We started the redevelopment after the 2017 season. 2018, 19, 20 and 21 have all been really disruptive - with the demolition of the stadium and the contingency plans we had to put in place and the reduction in capacity.
“The stadium redevelopment looks terrific, but as soon as we fully opened we found ourselves competing with Covid. It has been really tough for everybody, but we are now looking forward to full crowds next season, beginning on Boxing Day.”
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