LEEDS Rhinos have been casting their net into rugby union waters at opposite ends of the country as they trawl for new talent.
Wallsend Eagles teenager Sinclair Matthews has become a rare Geordie Rhino after joining Leeds’ Scholarship scheme.
And Rhinos’ under-18 academy squad spent last weekend at Filton College in Bristol on a pre-season training camp, which culminated in a game against South West Students.
Youth boss Barrie McDermott made the decision to sign outside-back Matthews and was in the group which visited the Bristol area.
He said: “In terms of the south west, all Super League clubs have been allocated a development area and that’s ours.
“When I go and watch a game on a Sunday morning in Yorkshire, Lancashire or Cumbria, all of our competitors are there as well.
“We are constantly competing with all our rivals for the same pool of talent, but in areas like the south west, that pool is untapped.”
McDermott added: “We won the game 50-4, but the local lads could play. Bristol and the surrounding area is rugby union-mad and there’s a lot of good players out there.
“It is just a case of tapping into the resource. There will be players who don’t fit in in the other code, but who might fancy a crack at ours.
“There are always exceptions, but modern rugby league players all tend to be 6ft-6ft4 tall and weigh 85-100kgs.
“In rugby union, that mould only really fits the centre position – but there’s different roles players like that can play in our game.”
The north east is another area McDermott feels is a potential breeding ground for rugby league talent.
Matthews’ brother Crawford is on the books at Hull FC and the siblings’ amateur club has already produced one Super League star in former Huddersfield star Chris Thorman.
Matthews has represented Scotland at under-16 and under-18 level and is also a talented footballer and athlete.
McDermott said: “We are delighted he has agreed to join us. We monitor young players with both a rugby league and a rugby union background and the search never ends for the best young talent.
“I am especially pleased for the rugby league community in the north east. There is a great deal of hard work being put in by volunteers in that part of the country and I hope they see this as recognition for their commitment to nurturing the game up there.”
Ireland coach Andy Kelly – the former Wakefield, Featherstone and Dewsbury boss – is working in the north east as an RFL talent scout, alongside Robin Peers and development officer John Grey.
Peers said: “Sinclair took up the sport relatively late as an under-13, having never played any rugby before that.
“Since then he has shown that he has the makings to excel and we are delighted Leeds have given him the opportunity to realise his potential.
“It is great as a region we are able to show we can produce talent for Super League clubs and with the talent we have up here Sinclair might not be the last to be signed up over the coming years.”
Rhinos under-20s have made a disappointing start to their season, losing their opening two games – including at home to Harlequins last weekend.
McDermott said: “Ultimately, the best players will end up playing for the Rhinos – you can count on that.
“We have got some very talented kids coming through in the 15s, 16s and at the bottom end of the 18s – but you have to start off with a lot of players at the bottom end of the pyramid to get to the top one or two.”
Sean Casey was the star of Rhinos’ win over South West Students, scoring two tries and kicking seven goals. James Duckworth also bagged a brace and other try scorers were Jack Cooke, Alex Foster, Jared Stewart, and Matty Blake.