Vuniyayawa and Gannon set to make Rhinos debuts against Saints

Fijian international King Vuniyayawa and 17-year-old Morgan Gannon will make their Leeds Rhinos debuts against St Helens in the Betfred Challenge Cup third round at the Totally Wicked Stadium, kick off 2.30pm, on BBC One.

Leeds Rhinos signed Fijian international forward King Vuniyayawa on a one year contract ahead of the 2021 Betfred Super League season from NRL side New Zealand Warriors.

The 6’2”, hard running middle made his debut for the Warriors last season with five appearances in the NRL. He played for Fiji in 2018 against Papua New Guinea and was in the Fiji team for games against Samoa and the Kumuls again in 2019, the latter as part of an impressive win in Christchurch that saw Fiji promoted to the Oceania Cup.

Vuniyayawa will be hoping to be part of the Fiji side at the Rugby League World Cup 2021 in England and help them to progress in a pool that includes reigning Champions Australia, Scotland and Italy. Fiji will be hoping to at least equal their achievements in the last World Cup in England back in 2013 when they reached the last four before eventually losing to the Kangaroos at Wembley in the semi final.

Vuniyayawa grew up playing Rugby Union after his family, which includes five brothers and two sisters, moved from Fiji to New Zealand. He switched to playing Rugby League after high school after seeing Fijian superstar Jarryd Hayne in action at the 2008 World Cup.

He signed for the Warriors from his local club, Manurewa Marlins, having playing in the New Zealand domestic competition. He also played for Auckland clubs Papakura Sea Eagles and Howick Hornets.

After making his NSWRL debut for the Warriors in 2018, he was due to join NRL side Manly before he was unable to take up the opportunity. However, that was the Warriors gain as he was available in 2020 to make his debut with the Auckland-based side.

Morgan Gannon joined the Rhinos Academy last season and follows into the footsteps of his older brother Jacob, who is part of the Warrington Wolves Super League squad. His father Jim played over 200 games in England with Halifax, Huddersfield, Widnes and Hull KR having moved to the country from Australia where he played for Balmain and is originally from Newcastle, NSW.

Morgan combines his studies at college with training with the Rhinos first team squad and has impressed the Rhinos coaching team with his attitude and ability during pre-season. He made a brief appearance off the bench in the pre-season game at Huddersfield. Originally from the Siddal club, he can play second row or loose forward.

The pair have been drafted into the squad with captain Luke Gale ruled out with a fractured thumb suffered against Castleford Tigers last Friday. In the same game, Bodene Thompson suffered a fractured rib whilst Liam Sutcliffe misses out this week with a knee injury. New signing Kyle Eastmond has not been selected as he continues his return to playing having joined the club just 38 days ago after not playing any rugby since the first national Covid lockdown in March 2020.

The other players currently injured are Jack Walker (foot) and Callum McLelland (groin) both after surgery, Harry Newman (leg break), Richie Myler (hamstring) and Ash Handley (knee) all suffered in games and Konrad Hurrell (calf), Rob Lui (quad) and Tom Holroyd (leg fracture) which occurred in training.