KIWI STAR TOOPI SET TO LEAVE RHINOS

Leeds Rhinos have announced that they have agreed a deal with New Zealand international Clinton Toopi to release the centre from the final year of his contract.

Leeds Rhinos have announced that they have agreed a deal with New Zealand international Clinton Toopi to release the centre from the final year of his contract at Headingley Carnegie. The 28-year-old has recently had a knee reconstruction after suffering a second serious knee injury this season in the Carnegie Challenge Cup semi final defeat to St Helens. "It was bad enough missing four months earlier in the season following major surgery on my shoulder and knee but suffering another knee injury has been a massive disappointment. I have really enjoyed my time here and I will miss the Rhinos very much. "It is two weeks since the operation and things are going well. The knee seems to be looking good and I am positive about my future once I get back fit again. The club have been very professional with me, especially with all my medical care and I really appreciate how Gary Hetherington has handled me, it has made everything a lot easier. "I am not only making this decision for me and my family but also for the team. I understand that the team need to have a starting centre ready and available for the start of the season. We have been under pressure this year because of that and I want to help the club move on and give them a chance to fill the centre position and put in concrete plans for 2009. In Ashley Gibson we have a guy who is ready to put his name out there and Kallum Watkins will keep everyone honest and, in a couple of years, he will be a force to reckon with. "I have a check up on 11th September with the surgeon and then we will look to head home after that. Hopefully I can pick up a club when I am back to full fitness in late Spring next year but I am mentally strong and up for the challenge. I totally understand the club’s position and my family and I are happy with how things have been handled. We will go home to New Zealand with some fantastic memories, especially the Grand Final last year at Old Trafford and the Carnegie World Club Challenge this year. I was glad to be part of that success but gutted that I won’t be here for the success I am sure that this team will enjoy together in the years ahead," added Toopi. Head Coach Brian McClennan, who coached Toopi and club and international level was disappointed for the former New Zealand Warrior, who joined the Rhinos in 2006, he added, "We are all bitterly disappointed for Clinton. That is the hard part of the salary cap, it leads you to have to make tough decisions in the interest of the whole team. The players and staff have a lot of time for Clinton and he will always have a great deal of friends here at the Rhinos. Injuries are a horrible and unpredictable part of our game unfortunately. Clinton was lucky in his early career at the Warriors and here at Leeds to avoid serious injury but they seem to have come at once this season. He will go home with two winners medals and lifetime friends. He will always remember Leeds fondly and we wish him and his family all the best for the future," added McClennan. Toopi joined the Rhinos at the end of the 2006 season and made 47 appearances for Leeds, scoring 10 tries. He suffered a dislocated shoulder and knee ligament injuries in the Carnegie World Club Challenge win over Melbourne on his birthday on 29th February this year before returning only to suffer this further set back. He was part of the New Zealand touring squad last year and gained 22 caps for his country so far in his career. Rhinos captain Kevin Sinfield, who has played against Toopi for Great Britain as well as playing alongside him at Leeds, added, "We are all very disappointed for Clinton that his time at Headingley Carnegie has been cut short by injury. He has had a frustrating year but he has been a model professional and has a tremendous attitude towards everything in life. He is a great character and a great friend, he has the full package but unfortunately it hasn’t worked out for him. On behalf of all the players, I would like to wish him and his family all the best for the future and I know he will be back to his best very shortly."