Rhinos sign up next generation of young stars

Leeds Rhinos have announced the largest ever single group of Academy signings ahead of the 2020 season with the return of Under 18 and Reserve Grade rugby next season.

Thirteen players have signed from the club’s Scholarship programme have agreed their first professional contracts with the club and will hope to follow in the footsteps of the like of current first teamers Jack Walker, Ash Handley, Harry Newman and Liam Sutcliffe. 

The group includes four players from Stanningley, which remains a rich source of talent for the Rhinos, plus four players from Wetherby Bulldogs. There are two players from Siddal plus one each from Hunslet Warriors, Batley and West Bowling. All five of the Leeds Rhinos players who were recently named in the England Youth squad to take on Wales later this month have been included.

The four players from Wetherby Bulldogs are full back Sam Little, half back Oliver Field and back rowers Ben Mayhew and Joe Gibbons. Gibbons and Field are familiar names to Rhinos fans with both their fathers, Dave Gibbons and Jamie Field, having played in the Rhinos first team during their careers. 

Commenting on the players Mark Butterill, Leeds Rhinos U16s Head Coach said, “Sam is a natural ball runner with a great ability to beat defenders in small areas of the field. He has good footwork and is solid under the highball with broken field running a key strength.

“Oliver is a big athletic stand-off whose strength is his organisation and his ability to take the line on and beat defenders. He has good all-round skill with good communication.

“Joe is a wrecking ball of a back rower that hurts people when he carries the ball. He is big and strong with a good pair of hands which means he ticks all the boxes for a modern-day backrower.

“Finally, Ben Mayhew who is Mr Dependable. He is a highly skilled, hard-working backrower. He always gives his best and has been a consistent performer throughout his time in the scholarship,” added Butterill.

The four players from Stanningley are full back or wing Mackenzie Turner, loose forward Tom Nicholson-Watton and props Nathan Snee and Joe Hird.

Commenting on the four players, Butterill said, “Mackenzie is lightning quick and has great footwork and ability to go past defenders with ease. He has scored some spectacular tries for us this year with his speed and footwork.

“Tom is the scholarship captain and is a natural leader. He is very skilful with the ball in hand and carries the ball strongly.

“Nathan is the son of ex-Bradford Northern forward Gavin Snee. He is a strong, aggressive front rower. He carries the ball hard, defends solidly in the middle and does everything expected from a front rower in the modern game.

“Joe is an ex-junior Karate champion. He carries the ball hard and makes-line breaks. He’s been a real standout for us this year and deserves his shot at moving up,” added the Under 16 coach.

The Rhinos have captured two players from the Siddal’s Under 16 team that last month won the Barla National Cup Final with a magnificent display in overcoming Blackbrook Royals. England Youth players Coby Nichol, a centre, and prop Ajhani Wallace have both impressed the Rhinos U16 coaching staff during their time in the Scholarship. Butterill added, “Coby is an aggressive centre. He is a tall and athletic whose defensive skill is a big part of his game.

“AJ is a fast running prop that loves to carry hard and skittle defenders. He is strong and powerful and is aggressive in everything that he does. He has become a real fans favourite amongst the scholarship supporters.”

Loose forward Luca Atkinson and scrum half Jonah Parsons join from West Bowling, although the latter previously played at Batley Boys before this season, whilst centre Andrew Stewart joins the Rhinos from Hunslet Warriors.

Speaking about the final three, Butterill said, “Luca is a highly skilled forward but is equally at home doing the tough work for his team. He has been consistently good throughout his time in the scholarship

“Jonah has pace to burn and the ability to beat defenders all over the park. His high energy running has resulted in some spectacular tries for his team this year.

“And finally, Andrew is a big strong athletic centre who has a strong carry and good footwork who also defends aggressively. All the things you require in a modern-day centre,” added Butterill.

Leeds Rhinos Director of Rugby Kevin Sinfield praised the work of all involved in producing such a talented group of young players. Sinfield added, “It is fantastic news for Leeds Rhinos that we have secured such a large and talented group of young players. It is testament to the outstanding work done by Mark Butterill and all our coaches in the scholarship programme that we have been able to sign thirteen players for next season. Most importantly, it is great recognition for each players community club, who introduced them to the game and have nurtured that ability to this point. This is the start of the professional journey for these young players and they will receive the best support and guidance we can provide as they look to reach the very top of the game.”