Leeds Rhinos: Hetherington admits he has tough decisions to make on player contracts
THE MAKE-UP of next season's squad will be among the toughest decisions of his 22 years at the helm, Leeds Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington has claimed.
Rhinos – who travel to Hull KR tomorrow – have a host of players coming off contract this year and Hetherington said pressure from emerging youngsters will leave him and coach Brian McDermott with difficult calls to make.
Captain Kallum Watkins, who had a year remaining on his previous deal, has re-signed until the end of 2021, but Rhinos have yet to announce new contracts for players in their final season.
Winger Tom Briscoe, stand-off Joel Moon and forward Adam Cuthbertson are among the players whose deal ends this autumn.
Hetherington said contract negotiations are an “on-going situation” and he insisted: “For us, there’s no certain deadlines to meet.
“It is a 12-month process, we don’t deal with them [contract renewals] at certain times, but clearly the players coming out of contract need to know where they stand in the club’s plans.
“All those decisions are on-going and we will deal with them accordingly.”
But Hetherington hinted there could be changes as Rhinos’ next generation of youngsters push through.
Cameron Smith, Mikolaj Oledzki and Josh Walters have all impressed at Betfred Super League level this year, despite not being in Rhinos’ elite 25.
“With a 25-man squad, pressure from players progressing in our system makes it a challenging environment,” Hetherington said.
“There’s real pressure on the players who have a shirt to maintain their position.
“That is really healthy competition within our organisation.
“We aren’t looking to make wholesale changes, it is more of an evolution, but when players are coming through it is a healthy competition. Brian McDermott and I have never had a more healthy, competitive squad, all striving to be part of the future, with so much strength in depth and emerging talent.”
A run of only two wins from their last six matches has seen Rhinos drop out of Betfred Super League’s top-four, but Hetherington believes they will “kick-on” over the second half of the regular season.
And he said next month’s entry into the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup is added incentive for Rhinos to hit their straps.
Leeds have been drawn at Widnes Vikings – a ground they haven’t won on since 2014 – in the sixth round.
Rhinos won the competition in 2014 and 2015 and Hetherington said: “The Challenge Cup brings its own hunger and desire from everybody in our organisation and particularly the playing staff.
“We want to get back to Wembley this year. We are in a solid position, we have got plenty of strength in depth and emerging players. We have yet to show our best form, but we are capable of doing so.”
Rhinos’ trip to Widnes has been confirmed for Friday, May 11 (8pm).
Meanwhile, Rhinos’ veteran forward Jamie Jones-Buchanan – who is yet to decide whether he will play on next season – has predicted a “dangerous” challenge at Hull KR tomorrow.
Rhinos won 20-11 when the sides met at Elland Road two months ago and Jones-Buchanan said: “They gave us a hard fight, they came out of the blocks really fast and tested us. We expect them to do the same again on Sunday.
“They have a few players who have played at Leeds so there’s a few links and extra motivation there. Having just bounced up from the division below this year we all know the main plan for them is to keep away from the middle-eights and the threat of going back down again. That always makes Hull KR dangerous.”
Rovers’ squad includes former Rhinos captain Danny McGuire. Jones-Buchanan added: “He’s a fantastic competitor, a great player and is still a massive inspiration for me. Even though we’re not team-mates any more that doesn’t change.”