Leeds lose young duo to New Zealand
New Zealand Warriors have signed English youngsters Jordan Baldwinson and Mason Tonks from under the noses of Super League champions Leeds Rhinos.
The signings have been made by former Leeds player and coach Dean Bell, who is the Warriors' general football manager, following a recent scouting trip to England.
The Warriors, who are also thought to have agreed terms with Wigan Warriors' England full-back Sam Tomkins for 2014, will aim to develop the two 18-year-olds in their junior side under former New Zealand and Catalan Dragons scrum-half Stacey Jones.
Loose forward Baldwinson, who captained the England Under-18s against France this year, made his Super League debut against Widnes Vikings last month.
He was out of contract at the end of the season and rejected the Rhinos' offer of a new deal.
Bell said today's announcement signalled a new direction in the club's recruitment strategy as they begin to target young players from not only New Zealand but also other parts of world.
"We're really excited about signing Jordan and Mason," Bell said. "For us, this is the start of something new and something we see working very well for our club and for the game generally.
"Jordan has already made his Super League debut this year and Mason is highly regarded as well.
"While they're only very young, they've both got the qualities needed to become NRL players of the future.
"We're seeing more and more evidence of players from Super League clubs having success in the NRL.
"Adrian Morley, Gareth Ellis and Sam Burgess have led the way while South Sydney is doing a great job developing the other Burgess boys into NRL players as well."
Jones, who is the Warriors' junior recruitment and pathways coach, said: "They're two young boys with big reputations and I'm sure they're going to make a real difference to our squad.
"We're committed to developing New Zealand players but we're also keen to have the best players in our system wherever they come from.
"Like Dean, I've seen first hand what sort of talent there is in England. It's going to be of real benefit to us having strong relationships in the United Kingdom."
Baldwinson said: "I'm so excited about the opportunity to join the Warriors.
"I recently made my Super League debut for Leeds and the club wanted to keep me but I've always admired the NRL.
"It's such a tough competition and I believe it will make me a better player being exposed to the intense competition week in, week out."
Meanwhile the Warriors are set to unveil a partnership with Wigan as part of the Tomkins deal.
Wigan general manager Kris Radlinski flew to Auckland last month to help lay the foundation for the arrangement and Warriors assistant coach Ricky Henry spent last week in England, visiting Warrington Wolves, Everton and Manchester City during his trip.