Why Leeds Rhinos seized chance to sign another half-back
HE CAME, he saw, but can he conquer?
Aidan Sezer was a high-profile, marquee signing for Huddersfield Giants ahead of the 2020 season and a Man of Steel nominee that year.
His Giants contract expired at the end of the 2021 campaign and Leeds announced his signing, on a two-year deal, in July.
Sezer is, without doubt, a quality addition and – Leeds’ management hope – someone who could help take a predominantly young squad to the next level.
Though vastly-experienced, at 30 he still has some good years ahead of him and is contracted for the next two seasons, which is longer than any of Rhinos’ other specialist halves.
His new challenge is to add some control and direction as Leeds aim to close the gap on three-time Super League champions St Helens and get back to Old Trafford for their first Grand Final since 2017.
He shone in a struggling side at Huddersfield and will hope Leeds can provide a better chance of winning silverware.
Sezer’s signing has led to speculation over Luke Gale’s future at Headingley.
The two play a similar style of game and Gale, the former Rhinos captain, is attracting interest from elsewhere in Super League.
Sezer already has a close relationship with another star signing, Blake Austin, who he played alongside at six and seven for Canberra Raiders.
Rhinos have been missing a spark in the halves since Danny McGuire bowed out after the title win four years ago.
Various combinations have been tried, but – owing to form or injuries – Leeds have not had consistency or depth in their pivots.
The search for a new play-maker began early this year when Rob Lui confirmed he would be retiring from elite level rugby at the end of the season.
It is not a like-for-like change. Lui was a running half-back, while Sezer is more of an organiser.
Having used more than a dozen different half-back pairings this year, coach Richard Agar will hope Sezer can provide some stability next term.
Rhinos have strike power in their three-quarters and a pack capable of taking the team forward, but linking the two – which is the halves’ job – has been an issue.
This year, only two Rhinos players reached double figures in tries and they – Kruise Leeming and Brad Dwyer – are both hookers, which highlights where the team have been lacking.
Sezer gives Rhinos another goalkicking option and, like Gale, is a one-point specialist.
He made the first of his 155 NRL appearances for Gold Coast Titans in 2012 and joined Canberra four years later.
He was a key member of Raiders’ squad in 2019 when they reached the NRL title decider, starting at scrum-half in a 14-8 loss to Sydney Roosters.
Raiders were keen to keep him but he opted for a big-money move to Giants where he was one of Super League’s top performers in his debut campaign.
Though Giants, as a team, failed to click, Sezer produced a string of outstanding individual performances, creating the second-most try assists in the competition.
He scored seven tries, 38 goals and a drop goal in 17 matches and was a runner-up to Castleford Tigers’ Paul McShane for the Man of Steel honour.
This year, Sezer was selected for the Combined Nations All Star side which beat England in June, but suffered an ankle injury in that game, ending his campaign.
With Giants boss Ian Watson bringing in Tui Lolohea and Theo Fages, who he coached at Salford, Sezer was out of favour and Rhinos stepped in.
At times during his career Sezer has been accused of failing to close games out, but he certainly has star quality.
He can break the line, boasts an excellent kicking game and the ability to come up with a killer pass, all of which can make the difference in tight contests.
Rhinos discovered that to their cost six months ago.
The Aussie, who qualifies for Turkey through his father, scored two tries, both of which he converted, and a drop goal when Giants pipped Rhinos by a point in May to secure their first win of the campaign.
That’s the sort of match-winning impact Leeds will be expecting him to make next year.
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