Strong in the backs, but pack must step up: Leeds Rhinos squad assessed after 2024 roster is confirmed
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Following a disappointing eighth-placed finish in Betfred Super League this year, Rhinos have splashed the cash in an attempt to get back among the title contenders and, certainly In terms of the backs, Rhinos’ first-choice lineup looks stronger than this year’s.
Australian full-back Lachie Miller will bring the electric pace Leeds have been lacking and his broken-field running should add a new dimension to their attack. First-choice wingers, David Fusitu’a and Ash Handley are unchanged and both proven performers, if they can avoid injury.
Coach Rohan Smith will be hoping the fitness problems which have dogged centre Harry Newman over the last three years are now behind him and he can kick on from the form he showed for England in their autumn internationals against Samoa.
Nene Macdonald, who could play wing or centre, is a tough act to follow, but Paul Momirovski appears to be an excellent replacement, having played in the NRL for Sydney Roosters in two spells, as well as Wests Tigers, Melbourne Storm and Penrith Panthers. Rhinos will be his fifth club in seven seasons, including the stint on loan at Melbourne, but he has been in some of Australia’s top set ups and, with 26 tries in 60 top-flight appearances, will add to Leeds’ firepower.
As ever, the halves are key and Leeds will have a new combination in Brodie Croft and Matt Frawley. Leeds paid Salford Red Devils a six-figure fee for Croft and the 2022 Man of Steel is their most exciting signing for years. On the form he showed at his previous club, he is one of the best players in the competition.
Frawley didn’t set Super League alight when he spent the 2019 season with Huddersfield Giants, but is more experienced now. He hasn’t had a huge amount of game time in recent seasons, but featured for Canberra Raiders in this year’s NRL play-offs and will be Rhinos’ organiser, with Croft playing a running role.
Rhinos’ outside-backs haven’t scored enough tries in recent seasons because they lacked service. The new half-back pairing has the potential to change that and the hat-trick by Fusitu’a against Castleford Tigers in the final game of 2023 was a positive sign. There might be a lot of tries in Frawley’s kicks to Fusitu’a on the right-edge.
More of a question mark hangs over Rhinos’ pack, now without big men Zane Tetevano and Sam Walters. Leeds got bullied up front at times this year and the halves will struggle if the pack don’t go forward. To fans’ dismay, they haven’t been given the big, experienced front-rower they were hoping for.
Prop Kieran Hudson, signed from Castleford, has inherited Walters’ number 22 jersey, but is probably in the project bracket. He is highly-rated from his spell at Whitehaven, but has yet to make his Super League debut and spent the whole of 2023 on the casualty list with an Achilles injury.
Ex-Catalans Dragons forward Mickael Goudemand, who could play in the back-row or as a middle, hasn’t attracted the same attention as some of Leeds’ recruits, but is a good player with the potential to prove a very astute addition, if he settles in. His squad number, 18, suggests he’ll be first in line if one of the pack drops out.
Leeds will rely heavily on their existing forwards, led by props Mikolaj Oledzki and Tom Holroyd. Aged 22, Holroyd earned his move up the squad list from 18 to 10 after some strong performances this year and is only going to get better.
Oledzki dropped below his usual high standard in 2023, but missed pre-season and the start of the campaign because of injury and should be better with more settled preparation. The same applies to Leeds’ other specialist prop, Justin Sangare, now he has a year’s experience at Rhinos under his belt. Sam Lisone began to really find his feet towards the end of 2024 and will also be better for a season in English conditions.
Andy Ackers, signed from Salford, is the experienced hooker Leeds have been lacking since Kruise Leeming’s exit last spring and they have quality back-up in Jarrod O’Connor and Corey Johnson.
Only injury or suspension will keep Cameron Smith out of the team at loose-forward, but his namesake will earn his corn selecting the second-row. That’s an area where Rhinos have almost an embarrassment of riches, with the first-choice pairing of James Bentley and Rhyse Martin facing competition from the likes of James McDonnell, Morgan Gannon and Leon Ruan, plus Toby Warren who has yet to make a first team appearance.
Overall, depth in the squad is probably the biggest concern at this stage. Rhinos have issued 30 squad numbers, which is six fewer than a year ago, though several other youngsters are in full-time training.
Richie Myler’s versatility will be difficult to replace following his surprise departure to York Knights and , with Luke Hooley also moving on, there’s no experienced candidate for the full-back slot if Miller is unavailable.
Handley has played there previously and is probably the most likely option, but Leeds have one specialist back-up winger, Derrell Olpherts. He is the only player to drop down the squad list, from 16 this year to 19. Young full-back Alfie Edgell and centre Max Simpson could both get game time and another teenager, Kyden Frater, might be a dark horse for a wing spot if injuries strike.
Jack Sinfield is next cab off the rank in the halves, with Gannon, Johnson and possibly Miller also able to fill in. A couple of injuries to props would leave Leeds stretched, though rookie Tom Nicholson-Watton got a brief taste in the final round of this year, but they are well covered at hooker and in the back-row.