Leeds Rhinos hand professional contracts to seven of club's most highly-rated academy youngsters

Seven of Leeds Rhinos’ in-form academy squad have signed their first professional contract with the club.
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Billy Davies and Dylan Proud, both 18 and 17 year olds Ben Littlewood, Harrison Gilmore, Kyden Frater, Blake Morgan and Neil Tchamambe have all agreed deals which will see them play for the academy until they become ineligible for under-18s rugby.

They will also be available for Rhinos’ reserves.

Bailey Aldridge and Jake Higgins both signed a similar contract last month.

Pictured with John Bastian, left and Chev Walker, right are (back-row left to right) Ben Littlewood, Harrison Gilmore, Kyden Frater, Neil Tchamambe; Front-row Dylan Proud, Billy Davies, Blake Morgan. Picture by Leeds Rhinos.Pictured with John Bastian, left and Chev Walker, right are (back-row left to right) Ben Littlewood, Harrison Gilmore, Kyden Frater, Neil Tchamambe; Front-row Dylan Proud, Billy Davies, Blake Morgan. Picture by Leeds Rhinos.
Pictured with John Bastian, left and Chev Walker, right are (back-row left to right) Ben Littlewood, Harrison Gilmore, Kyden Frater, Neil Tchamambe; Front-row Dylan Proud, Billy Davies, Blake Morgan. Picture by Leeds Rhinos.
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Rhinos’ youngsters have won all their six games this year, under coach Chev Walker and face Bradford Bulls at Odsal tomorrow (7.30pm).

Loose-forward Davies and Proud, an outside-back, both joined Rhinos’ system from the Siddal community club in Halifax.

Littlewood played junior rugby for Lock Lane and Oulton Raiders and fellow prop Harrison Gilmore started at Hunslet Warriors before joining Stanningley.

Frater, who plays half-back or wing, was recruited by Rhinos from Milford, loose-forward Morgan is a product of the Saddleworth Rangers club and winger Tchamambe was signed from Leeds Irish.

Billy Davies on the attack for Rhinos' academy. Picture by Craig Hawkhead/Leeds Rhinos.Billy Davies on the attack for Rhinos' academy. Picture by Craig Hawkhead/Leeds Rhinos.
Billy Davies on the attack for Rhinos' academy. Picture by Craig Hawkhead/Leeds Rhinos.
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Rhinos’ player pathway development manager John Bastian returned to the club last year, having been head of youth development in the 2000s when the ‘golden generation’ - who won eight Super League titles - were coming through the ranks.

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“I think the juniors will play a significant part in the growth and progress of the club,” he said of the new batch.

“These players aren’t getting signed to just get numbers in, they’re earning it through how they are preparing, how they are practising and ultimately how they are performing.

Rhinos academy's Harrison Gilmore. Picture by Craig Hawkhead.Rhinos academy's Harrison Gilmore. Picture by Craig Hawkhead.
Rhinos academy's Harrison Gilmore. Picture by Craig Hawkhead.

“Now they’ve got to step up again in regards to improving as athletes and making sure that when they do train and play, they’ve got a strong work ethic and their effort is good.”

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Though most of the seven were part of Rhinos’ scholarship, Gilmore and Davies are recent additions to the academy, direct from the community game.

“By signing Harrison and Ben, it shows to other community players you haven’t missed the bus,” Bastian said.

“Those lads have come in here from the community game and have stepped up.

“It’s about how much they want to achieve within rugby league so it is a credit to them, but certainly the opportunities are not gone at 16 years old.”

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Proud said he is “buzzing” to have signed a professional deal.

“It shows all the hard work pays off and gets you a step closer to the first team,” he said.

“I found out when I came into training so I had two hours waiting to tell my family, but they were buzzing as well.

“Siddal has produced a lot of players over time, like [Rhinos first team squad members] Tom Holroyd and Levi Edwards, so it’s nice to represent them and I can’t say thank you enough for what they’ve done for me.”

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Littlewood said: “I played rugby union first at school, but then I joined Lock Lane and went on to play for Oulton as well.

“To be here, I’m eager to progress and learn.

“It feels great to sign my first professional deal.”

He added: “I’m happy to be here and the team have made me feel really welcome.

“Stepping up from the community game, the matches are more fast paced and it’s a lot more professional.

“It’s great to progress and continue doing what I’m doing.”

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