Leeds Rhinos' Tom Nicholson-Watton explains York Knights loan move, underlines Super League ambition

Rising star Tom Nicholson-Watton reckons a spell on loan at York Knights will make him a better player when he’s needed by Leeds Rhinos.
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Nicholson-Watton has joined the Betfred Championship outfit on loan until the end of this season, but Leeds have the option to recall him if required. He is under contract beyond this year and is regarded by Rhinos’ management as a Super League player of the future.

The 21-year-old prop made his debut, at loose-forward, when York lost 36-20 away to Doncaster in their opening league fixture last Sunday. He is in familiar company at the North Yorkshire outfit, whose 17 for that game included ex-Rhinos Jimmy Keinhorst, Richie Myler and Olly Field. Another former Leeds man, Levi Edwards, is recovering from anterior cruciate ligament surgery and Joe Brown, like Nicholson-Watton, was born in Leeds and played his youth rugby at Stanningley.

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Doncaster also have a strong Rhinos connection with Luke Briscoe, Alex Sutcliffe, Loui McConnell and Brett Ferres all playing against York. Names like that illustrate the quality of squads in the second tier and why Nicholson-Watton feels playing in the Championship will bring his game on.

Tom Nicholson-Watton on the charge for Leeds Rhinos in their pre-season win against Hul KR. Picture by Steve Riding.Tom Nicholson-Watton on the charge for Leeds Rhinos in their pre-season win against Hul KR. Picture by Steve Riding.
Tom Nicholson-Watton on the charge for Leeds Rhinos in their pre-season win against Hul KR. Picture by Steve Riding.

He played six games on loan for Keighley Cougars last year so knows the level and insisted: “It is a tough league; it is rugged, fast and technical. It is a really good league for a player like me to develop in.

“It is just about getting minutes and gaining experience off players around me. I have got a great set of older middles at York with loads of experience - like Jordan Thompson [another ex-Leeds man] and Connor Fitzsimmons - who I can get little tips off. It is about playing with them, learning the ropes and progressing.”

Nicholson-Watton was an unused member of Rhinos’ initial 21-man squad for the opening three Super League rounds this year. He added: “I don’t want to go away from here [Leeds], but it is important I am playing. If something happens and I am needed here, I will be ready to go because I have been playing at a good level in the Championship.”

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He is still training with Rhinos, alongside his York commitments. “I come in and do some bits and I train with York on an evening,” he said. “I am definitely not over-training, I check with the coaches and performance staff on a morning, see if there’s anything else I need to do, then go and training with York in the evening. Leeds is my parent club and I am just focussing on improving my rugby, playing good rugby and I’ll see where I go from that.”

Tom Nicholson-Watton impressed in Leeds Rhinos' pre-season games and has joined York Knights on loan to gain more first team experience. Picture by John Clifton/SWpix.com.Tom Nicholson-Watton impressed in Leeds Rhinos' pre-season games and has joined York Knights on loan to gain more first team experience. Picture by John Clifton/SWpix.com.
Tom Nicholson-Watton impressed in Leeds Rhinos' pre-season games and has joined York Knights on loan to gain more first team experience. Picture by John Clifton/SWpix.com.

Nicholson-Watton played in Rhinos’ pre-season games against Wakefield Trinity, Bradford Bulls and Hull KR, having made his Super League debut as a substitute in the final match of 2023. He was promoted into the first team squad, as number 30, last autumn and insisted: “I really enjoyed pre-season. I felt like I had a big pre-season and developed really well.

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“I felt like I put in a good performance for myself and for the team in the pre-season games. Hopefully this year is just about building on that and progressing even more. I am only 21, but if you are good enough, you’ll play - that’s what it’s all about.

“It was nice at the end of last year when my work in the Championship was rewarded with a Super League debut. Hopefully if I play a few more Championship games this year I can get a few more Super League games under my belt.”

Richie Myler is part of a strong ex-Leeds Rhinos contingent in York Knights' squad. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com.Richie Myler is part of a strong ex-Leeds Rhinos contingent in York Knights' squad. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com.
Richie Myler is part of a strong ex-Leeds Rhinos contingent in York Knights' squad. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com.
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Of featuring at loose-forward last week, Nicholson-Watton stressed: “I was playing as an extra middle. I don’t mind playing a bit with the ball; my game is mostly run hard, tackle hard, effort areas, but I have got that ability to ball-play if it’s needed and if the coach wants that, I can provide it.”

Doncaster were promoted from League One last year after finishing third in the table behind Dewsbury Rams and Hunslet. “They were a tough side and we didn’t really play to our strengths or compete hard enough in certain areas,” the on-loan forward said of Knights’ surprise defeat. “But it’s a lesson learned and we’ll review it and come back stronger.

“In the Championship it is about working hard and beating the man in front of you and the opposition in front of you. It is a little bit different to Super League, but I really enjoyed it - it was a learning curve and a short, sharp lesson we will take into Toulouse next week.”