Rhinos well placed to deal with changing landscape
Leeds Rhinos Chief Executive Gary Hetherington believes the reigning World and Super League Champions are well placed to deal with the latest changes to the Rugby League landscape in the years ahead.
This season sees the Australian NRL competition begin a new television rights deal that has seen the game Down Under set new records for player salaries in the game of Rugby League with each club receiving Aus$7million (£4.5 million) in central funds alone. Coupled with that has been increased scrutiny regarding work visas in the UK in recent years and the strength of the pound against the Australian Dollar. That has set a challenge for Super League clubs with an equal number of players having moved from the NRL to Super League as have travelled in the opposite direction so far this close season.
Leeds Rhinos Chief Executive Gary Hetherington says that Super League clubs must now look to their own youth development programmes to unearth the stars of the future.
He commented, “It has been well documented that we are looking to add a quality player to our squad for next season to replace Brent Webb, although not necessarily a full back. I have spoken to many NRL clubs directly and player agents and they are all aware of our situation however the likelihood is that our search may extend into the start of the next season. The landscape has changed in the Rugby League world and it has become particularly noticeable this close season.
“We are in an enviable position as reigning World and Super League Champions. We have a youth development system that year on year continues to develop people like Stevie Ward and Jimmy Keinhorst to follow in the footsteps of the many who have gone before. We have seven players in the current England team plus two more who represented the Knights and four players who toured with the England Academy squad who are yet to make their first team debuts. On top of this we have established Super League players in Jamie Peacock, Ryan Bailey, Danny McGuire, Brett Delaney, Kylie Leuluai, Darrell Griffin, Richard Moore and Ian Kirke. We were delighted to sign Mitch Achurch for next season from Penrith Panthers and clearly with the quality of player at our disposal anyone else joining us will need to be top class to add to that group,” added Hetherington.
The Chief Executive has revealed that Leeds will continue their search for new recruits but that there is no immediate rush to recruit and finding the right person for Leeds Rhinos remains the priority.
He added, “The process of strengthening our squad is an ongoing one and not something that just happens at the end of each season. We are already planning for 2014 and beyond. We are constantly looking to add quality to our group but anyone we sign must be better than the players we already have. There are a number of key factors in recruitment which clearly starts with a player either being available, ie out of contract, or a club that is willing to release their player. Unlike some of our rivals, we have space within the salary cap to bring in players if and when they become available. That happened back in 2004 when we signed Ali Lauitiiti and in 2006 when we signed Clinton Toopi.
“Similarly, when Huddersfield helped us out in mid-season by loaning Shaun Lunt to us, all parties were fully aware that Shaun had three years to run on his Giants contract.
“At the moment we are at an exciting crossroads for the club with so many young, talented and British players in our squad. The backline for the Challenge Cup Final was the youngest ever to appear at Wembley. Those players need to be rewarded for their achievements to retain them at the club.
“We have a talented British coaching staff, headed up by Brian McDermott, and a youth development programme that is once again bearing fruit under the guiding hand of Barrie McDermott. As a club we have always been committed to developing the best young talent, that has been the corner stone of our success over the last decade, but we retain the option to bring in top class talent to supplement that if they are available. The majority of NRL clubs have not started back for pre-season yet and I am sure there will be some movement once teams have had the chance to look at their squads and perhaps need to free up space within their salary cap,” added Hetherington.
Head Coach Brian McDermott added, “We have a special culture here at the Rhinos which has been nurtured and developed for over a decade. Anyone we sign must not only add to the quality on the pitch for eighty minutes each week, they must also add value to the club as a whole.
“There is perhaps a need to change our mindset as a game in this country and understand the unique opportunity we have here for our game. I think this is an exciting time to be part of Super League. The factors in Australia along with our own quota system and the salary cap have weaned clubs off the reliance of bringing in overseas players to fill out their squad. You only need to look at the exciting young talent in the England squad to see how that has allowed clubs to give young players the chance to shine. As well as these players, who have come through the Academy systems at club level, players from the Championship have also shown their ability to perform at the highest level when you think of people like Zak Hardaker and Chris Hill.
“Added to this emergence of young players, is clubs giving British coaches the chance to do the top jobs and, a year out from a home World Cup, the 2013 Super League season looks set to be the one that is most recognisably our own domestic competition,” added McDermott.