YOUNG PROSPECT Liam Sutcliffe, 20, will be given an opportunity to take over Kevin Sinfield’s stand-off role when the Leeds Rhinos skipper leaves the club at the end of this season.
Chief executive Gary Hetherington said Rhinos will continue their policy of replacing from within as they look forward to life without Sinfield and pack leader Jamie Peacock, who is also in his final year at Rhinos.
But Hetherington insisted if Rhinos’ management feel the need to bring players in from outside the club, that remains an option.
Sinfield, 34, set a time limit on a sparkling Rhinos career, which began in 1997, when he announced he will quit rugby league in November to join union sister club Yorkshire Carnegie on an 18-month contract.
Rhinos have been strongly linked with New Zealand Warriors’ Sam Rapira as a front-row recruit to take over from Peacock, who confirmed last week he will join Hull KR in 2016 as football manager.
Hetherington refused to confirm or deny an approach for Rapira, but he said: “We will not find another Kevin Sinfield or Jamie Peacock, but we will find other top-quality players.
“We have already got one in Liam Sutcliffe. There’s absolutely no question he is a player for the present and future and he will, one would assume, take on that mantle.
“Jamie Peacock leaves a void, which is a top-quality front-row forward, so that position needs to be filled.
“Our policy has been and will continue to be to develop and promote our own players and I think we’re getting the most exciting crop of young players through now for 10 or 12 years.”
But Hetherington added: “If we feel we need to supplement our squad from outside, we will continue to do that – as we’ve done with people like Tom Briscoe and Joel Moon and Paul Aiton in recent years. That will always remain one of the options and that is a constant search.
“It has not changed with the decision of Kev or Jamie.”
Of Rapira, Hetherington said: “There’ll be a lot of talk linking us with everybody and anybody.
“That is absolutely natural, because any player who’s on the market would love to be linked with Leeds Rhinos.
“It is flattering for us. We will scrutinise everybody who’s available, but we will take our time about that and make an announcement as and when it’s done. But that search for quality players is a continual one, not one that’s being stepped up now.”
Hetherington described Sinfield as “at the heart of all our success, both on and off the field”.
He said: “For him and Jamie Peacock to be leaving at the same time, that’s two big pairs of shoes to fill.
“But that’s all part of the transition and we always knew this time would come.
“We are planning for as smooth a transition as possible and that is an on-going process.
“Kevin has achieved everything possible in rugby league and going to Yorkshire Carnegie is a new challenge for him.”