Hard work pays off as James Donaldson signs one-year deal with Leeds Rhinos

James Donaldson celebrates the Festive Challenge victory over Wakefield Trinity with his Leeds Rhinos team-mates.
James Donaldson celebrates the Festive Challenge victory over Wakefield Trinity with his Leeds Rhinos team-mates.
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LEEDS RHINOS have signed former Bradford Bulls and Hull KR forward James Donaldson on a one-year contact.

And teenage front-rower Muizz Mustapha has been promoted from Rhinos’ academy to the full-time squad on a new deal covering the next two seasons.

James Donaldson

James Donaldson

Donaldson was offered the chance to train with Rhinos a month ago and played in their Boxing Day win over Wakefield Trinity.

He will wear number 25, filling the spot which was left vacant when Rhinos’ squad was announced in November. The 27-year-old Cumbrian, who lives in Leeds, had been without a club since leaving Hull KR at the end of last season and said he is “over the moon” to be staying in Betfred Super League.

“I was always confident if I got an opportunity I could prove my worth,” Donaldson insisted. “It was just getting that opportunity to get my foot in the door.

“I have had good feedback from Kev [Sinfield, Rhinos’ director of rugby] all the way through. Obviously they wanted to see me play on Boxing Day, I sat down with Kev after the game and he kind of said then he wanted me and let’s get it sorted.

I’ve settled down a lot more in training now I know I don’t have to prove that point all the time and try too hard, but I am absolutely over the moon to be able to come to a club like this

James Donaldson

“The last few weeks we’ve managed to sort it. I’ve settled down a lot more in training now I know I don’t have to prove that point all the time and try too hard, but I am absolutely over the moon to be able to come to a club like this and I can’t wait for it.”

Donaldson could feature in Sunday’s second pre-season game away to Doncaster. He stressed: “The aim is just to settle in.

“I’ve only been here a few weeks now and this gives me chance to settle in and let them see a bit more about what I am about. They’ve not had much chance yet and they can see what type of character I am. I’m looking forward to getting stuck in and really putting some performances in for Leeds and working my way into that team.

“It has been a crazy six months, I can’t tell you how hard it has been mentally, not just for me, but for my family as well who have seen me go through this tough time. There were some dark days, not knowing what the future holds, but I always remained confident in myself that I could still do a job and now I have that opportunity.

“I’m really looking forward to my future here now and building on it and hopefully [I can] earn a new contract sooner rather than later. I feel in great shape at the moment, I’ve not felt this good for a long time so it’s all positive heading into the new season.”

Coach David Furner said Donaldson has earned his contract. He stated: “I am happy for him. At my first meeting with the players, before James came in, I said everyone has got their name on a sheet that’s blank. I wanted to see what this squad’s about, individually and obviously as a team. Donno has got an opportunity there. He was just on a train-trial and I think he has added to that squad.”

Meanwhile, Mustapha had a year left on his academy contract, but has been promoted after impressing for Yorkshire and England in recent games against Australian Schoolboys. The 18-year-old, who was born in Nigeria but grew up in Leeds, is likely to take squad number 36 and Furner said: “He has earned the right. I am liking the young players coming through and they are pushing our more experienced players as well. I think both groups - the youth and experience - are benefiting from the competition in the squad.”