Leeds Rhinos leave options open on their final squad place

Gary Hetherington
Gary Hetherington
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THE PROSPECTS of a new signing seem to be fading, but chief executive Gary Hetherington insists all options remain open when it comes to filling Leeds Rhinos’ squad vacancy.

Rhinos have allocated 24 of the 25 places in their senior squad for this year and Hetherington said a decision on the final player has not yet been made.

Teenager Ashton Golding was today taking the 25th place on Rhinos’ flight to their pre-season training camp in Jacksonville, Florida.

“We said at the outset we’d look to fill it (the No 25 spot) before the start of the season and that it could be somebody from outside the club, or somebody promoted from within,” Hetherington said.

“That’s still the case. Two players – Elliot Minchella and Robbie Ward – have climbed into the 25 this year and we have four players who are spending the season on loan at Featherstone.

“But we have also got players like Robbie Mulhern, Luke Briscoe and James Duckworth.

“Mulhern is making quite significant progress and Luke Briscoe is now fit again after a foot injury ruled him out of our Boxing Day game.

“They are all too old for the academy and are not in the first-team squad so they are in

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contention, as are others.

“Our policy is to promote people from the academy to the first-team squad and both Elliot Minchella and Robbie Ward are academy age.

“Ash Handley made quite a spectacular entrance when he scored five tries on Boxing Day and Ashton Golding has done very well in the last six weeks or so.

“He will take the 25th spot in Jacksonville, but that doesn’t mean to say he will be promoted to the first-team squad – that has yet to be decided.”

Rhinos had to reach an agreement with staff at Priesthorpe School, where Golding is studying for ‘A’ Levels, before he received clearance to make the trip.

Hetherington said another teenager, half-back Jordan Lilley, is also close to making a first-team breakthrough.

“He played on Boxing Day and I know he is highly-regarded,” he said.

“We have got the Lazenby Cup match against Hunslet when we get back from Florida and that is another opportunity for players to stake a claim.”

Of the chances of signing a player from outside the club, Hetherington said: “With regards recruitment, that is an on-going situation.

“We still retain the flexibility to bring someone in and that’s another possibility – as is leaving it open.

“At the end of the day it is very much the coach’s decision. Everybody is striving to get into the first-team squad and that is what we want.”

Rhinos will face the local Jacksonville Axemen at the University of North Florida on Sunday and field a team made up of fringe and academy players against Hunslet a week later.

Coach Brian McDermott is expected to put out his strongest-available line-up for Jamie Peacock’s testimonial game at home to Bradford Bulls on January 25 and another second-string team will travel to Doncaster the following Sunday.

Rhinos begin their First Utility Super League campaign away to Hull KR a month tomorrow.