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Leeds Rhinos Super League

Donaldson signs Leeds deal

Former Hull KR forward James Donaldson has signed a one-year deal with 2017 Super League champions Leeds Rhinos after a period on trial with the club.

After being surprisingly released by the Robins at the end of last season, 27-year-old Donaldson has suitably impressed new Rhinos coach Dave Furner both in training and the club’s thus-far sole pre-season friendly against Wakefield. The Cumbrian utility forward has been handed the number 25 jersey for Leeds and was understandably delighted to have secured his immediate future. “It is a really big opportunity for myself and I am looking forward to continuing to work hard to earn my spot in the team,” he told the media following his signature.

“My aim from day one has been to try and impress Dave Furner and the rest of the coaching staff here at the Rhinos. I am glad I got the opportunity to come and train with Leeds and, I would like to think that, I have taken that chance with both hands. I am looking forward to kicking on now and I am hoping to prove myself at a top team,” Donaldson added. He will be in line to feature in Leeds’ next pre-season friendly against Doncaster this weekend.

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Leeds Rhinos Super League

Rhinos announce squad numbers as Walker moves up

Leeds Rhinos are expecting an improved year in 2019 after the arrival of new head coach Dave Furner and, after assessing the squad, the Australian and his staff have revealed the club’s squad numbers for the upcoming campaign – with more than one surprise.

After breaking through towards the end of 2017, teenager Jack Walker was promoted in the numbers for 2018 and have been promoted further and will swap the number 24 for the number 1 jersey for 2019, indicating that Furner believes the recently-capped England Knights man will be his first choice full-back. In turn, that has seen Ashton Golding taking the number 21 jersey and, being a player rumoured to be available to leave the club, he may not get chance to pull on the Leeds jersey next year.

Following Ryan Hall’s NRL departure as he links up with reigning champions Sydney Roosters, Walker’s fellow England Knights squad member Ash Handley has been handed the number 5 jersey. After starring as the Rhinos’ top Super League try scorer last season in the centres, the arrival of Tongan international Konrad Hurrell coupled with the imminent return from injury of captain Kallum Watkins was always likely to see the 22-year-old miss out in the centres. He will, however, start 2019 as one of the two first choice wingers and has beaten competition from Luke Briscoe for that spot, the former Featherstone flyer picking up number 24.

Walker and Handley’s England Knights teammate Mikolaj Oledzki’s continued development has been rewarded with the number 19 jersey, the first time the Gdansk-born giant has been included in the squad’s top twenty. Fellow forward Jamie Jones-Buchanan will be marking his twentieth year with the club next season and, suitably, he will be wearing 20 in what is expected to be his final season before retiring. Taking JJB’s newly-vacant number 11 will be one of Leeds’ three new NRL acquisitions, former Australian test international Trent Merrin. Newly arrived from Penrith Panthers, the 29-year-old is adept at playing in the front row but, if the numbers are to offer positional guidance, he is intended to be in the back row. Fellow new boys Tui Lolohea and Hurrell will wear the number 6 jersey – free due to Joel Moon’s retirement – and number 4 respectively.

In order for Hurrell to take 4, Liam Sutcliffe – who made his England debut against France recently – has moved down to 15. Brett Ferres moves from 19 to 16 while Dom Crosby, after making his loan move permanent from Warrington in the close season, has been handed number 17 for his first full Headingley campaign. Other changes see Anthony Mullally drop from 16 to 26, Cameron Smith promoted to 22 while youngster Callum McLelland will wear 23 following his return to rugby league after a brief stint in rugby union.

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Leeds Rhinos Super League

Merrin looking forward to being part of something special after Leeds move

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After weeks of rumours and new head coach Dave Furner admitting interest in the player, Leeds Rhinos have this morning confirmed the signing of Australian forward Trent Merrin from the NRL’s Penrith Panthers on a four-year marquee player deal.

With over two hundred appearances in the NRL and having pulled on the Kangaroos jersey seven times, 29-year-old Merrin arrives in Yorkshire with a wealth of experience. Indeed, Leeds have been keen through the off-season to recruit top quality players as Furner and director of rugby Kevin Sinfield plot to revive the Rhinos’ fortunes after an inconsistent period which culminated in a second campaign in The Qualifiers in three years. Merrin had been identified as one of the players who could improve the squad and, after plenty of speculation surrounding the possible move, it seemed that the transfer had fallen through after the Australian forward looked to have turned down a move to Super League in favour of staying in the NRL.

However, the announcement was made this morning by the club and, following the departure of Mitch Garbutt to Hull KR, Merrin’s arrival will fill a front row shaped hole in 2019, although he is also more than capable of playing elsewhere in the pack. “He is an international class forward who was a regular last season for Penrith Panthers in the NRL,” Sinfield told the Rhinos’ official website. “He has an outstanding reputation in Australia for his leadership within a group and is someone who has played for a decade at the highest level of the game,” he added.

He will be joining a Leeds team who have already recruited Konrad Hurrell – also on a marquee player deal – Tui Lolohea, Callum McLelland and Dom Crosby ahead of 2019. It is still believed that the club are in the market for further recruits in their bid to return to the upper echelons of Super League, something Merrin is keen to do also. “I have done everything I possibly could in the NRL and this is a great opportunity for me to come to a great club with a fantastic culture and hopefully achieve some goals together,” he remarked. During his time in the NRL, he won both the Grand Final in 2010 and World Club Challenge in 2011 with St George Illawarra Dragons with whom he enjoyed a seven season spell.

Penrith’s official website remarked of Merrin’s off-field qualities as another positive, commenting on his work away from the pitch in promoting mental health with his #MoveOutOfYourHead campaign. Joining a club with Stevie Ward and Kallum Watkins in their ranks, both of whom have spoken publicly about their struggles, he will no doubt be an asset to both Leeds and rugby league as a whole in promoting well-being among the community. “We wish him well with his new challenge in the English Super League. Leeds has secured itself a very good man,” the Panthers’ statement added.

In bringing Merrin to Headingley, the Rhinos are believed to have beaten off competition from other NRL clubs in securing his signature, something chief executive Gary Hetherington is a statement of intent for both the club and the competition. “This is hugely significant for not just Leeds Rhinos but the Super League competition and shows the ambition of our club to compete at the very top of the game,” he noted.

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Leeds Rhinos Super League

Leeds confirm JJB and Briscoe deals

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Leeds Rhinos stalwart Jamie Jones-Buchanan has penned a new one-year deal – which will be his last – with the club while Luke Briscoe has extended his stay with the club after joining this summer from Featherstone Rovers.

An article today in the Yorkshire Evening Post confirmed the re-signings and, upon signing his final deal with the club, Jones-Buchanan will be playing in his twenty-first season for the West Yorkshire giants. With over four hundred appearances to his name with his hometown club, 37-year-old ‘JJB’ will be aiming to add to a tally which already makes him one of the players of recent times with the most appearances for the club. Most importantly for the fifteen-time international, however, will be ensuring he can help the club recover from a second appearance in The Qualifiers in three seasons and return the Rhinos to the upper reaches of Super League once more and, under new head coach Dave Furner, there is clear optimism around the club.

Another re-signing for the club sees 24-year-old Luke Briscoe – younger brother of Leeds winger Tom – extend his stay with Leeds after joining from dual-registration partners Featherstone in June. In ten appearances for the club in 2018, Briscoe crossed for five tries but, after an incredible thirty-three tries in twenty-four appearances for Featherstone before his move to the Rhinos, he will hope to add more through 2019.