Leeds Rhinos will go into First Utility Super League 2014 boasting their “best squad” so far, chief executive Gary Hetherington says.
Rhinos – who finished third in last year’s table, but failed to reach either major final – have lost one member of their 2013 senior squad, hooker Paul McShane, who has joined Wakefield Trinity Wildcats.
But England winger Tom Briscoe has been signed from Hull, Rhinos have recruited Wakefield hooker Paul Aiton – who played in the World Cup for Papua New Guinea – and prop Andy Yates comes in from partner club Hunslet Hawks.
Those three have joined the bulk of last year’s side in a settled roster and Hetherington said: “I believe this is our best squad to date, with a good balance of experience and youth.
“The emergence of Stevie Ward, Liam Sutcliffe and Brad Singleton will give our coach Brian McDermott some interesting selection headaches. And our new signings Tom Briscoe and Paul Aiton have added some star quality and extra competition.”
The outside-backs are where Rhinos look strongest, with six international-quality players battling for five spots at full-back, wing and centre.
“I believe it is the club’s strongest-ever backline,” Hetherington said. “I discussed this topic with a group of our Veteran Fan Club members recently and we all agreed the best backline in living memory was the one that played in the Challenge Cup final at Wembley in 1972 and won the Championship final the following week: John Holmes, Alan Smith, Syd Hynes, Les Dyl and John Atkinson, along with the versatile John Langley.
“The current Rhinos six of Zak Hardaker, Tom Briscoe, Kallum Watkins, Joel Moon, Ryan Hall and Ben Jones-Bishop compares favourably and, in my opinion, have the edge.
“With an average age of just 24 our current crop could be together for many years to come and establish themselves as one of the game’s most formidable and feared backlines.
“I think this season could be the one when they all click together and if they do, our fans are in an exciting time.”