LEEDS RHINOS will announce their squad numbers for 2016 on a piecemeal basis over the next few weeks.
Chief executive Gary Hetherington has confirmed a change from previous years, when the squad was revealed in one announcement.
Rhinos have already revealed Stevie Ward will take over the No 13 slot from departed captain Kevin Sinfield and Hetherington said: “We rejected the suggestion we should retire the No 13 shirt as a mark of respect for Kevin.
“One reason is that over the not too distant future we could end up having to retire quite a host of numbers.
“Secondly, we see it as an aspirational challenge for other players. Stevie Ward is someone who has earned the right (to wear No 13) and who could go on to replicate Kevin’s achievements both on the field and –with his leadership potential –off it, too.
“Our policy is for players to strive to acquire their number and once they have got it, to keep it as long as possible.
“We are also keen to maintain the tradition of numbers relating to rugby league positions, so No 1 is our full-back, No 8 is a prop and so on.”
Sinfield, props Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai and hooker Paul Aiton have all departed from Rhinos’ 2015 squad, with forwards Keith Galloway and Anthony Mullally and hooker Beau Falloon being brought in.
Falloon is set to arrive in this country next week, when Rhinos’ first group of players begin pre-season training. Hetherington said Galloway will link up with his new teammates “shortly afterwards”.
Jordan Baldwinson has returned to the club from a spell away and other players, including Ashton Golding and Ash Handley, are pressing for a squad number.
“We have 25 places in our top squad and it is always a thrill and an achievement when a player progresses from our academy to earn his number,” Hetherington added.
“Then he is striving to get a coveted number in the top 20. For 2016, the numbers eight, nine and 10 still need to be filled – and that is assuming all players in this year’s top 20 retain their number.
“We also have a lot of competition for numbers 21 to 25. Other squad numbers will be announced over the course of the next few weeks, with the final squad number announcement by the end of November.”
Players who are too old for the under-19s academy side and do not make the 25-man Super League squad could be loaned to other clubs, added Hetherington, insisting forward Mitch Achurch will be part of Rhinos’ squad next year, despite speculation the former Penrith Panthers man could be returning to his native Australia.
The Yorkshire Evening Post understands one player on the move is 19-year-old loose-forward Elliott Minchella, who is training with Sheffield Eagles and is set to join the Championship club on a two-year deal.
He made six senior appearances in 2013-2014, but spent this year on loan at London Broncos.