Jon Wilkin claims Blake Austin has been the answer for Leeds Rhinos in 2023 and has been left puzzled by his Headingley Stadium exit.
Austin, 32, made the shock move to Castleford Tigers on loan for the remainder of the season on Thursday morning, although wasn’t available for the side’s Super League clash with Huddersfield.
Head coach Rohan Smith admitted he was somewhat in the dark over the move, having turned on his phone to find out a deal had practically been done between all involved parties on the morning of the confirmation.
Australian playmaker Austin was without a deal beyond the current season, and made no secret of his contract negotiations or his preferred option to remain with Leeds.
However, it appears Austin’s new deal never landed and he has played his final game for the Rhinos.
He has been linked with a permanent move to promotion-chasing Championship side Featherstone Rovers for 2024 by Leeds Live.
Austin has made 41 appearances for Leeds since arriving from Warrington Wolves ahead of 2022, and has recently been enjoying his finest form in Super League, winning June’s Super League player of the month.
He will now turn his attention to helping the Tigers retain their Super League status, with Andy Last having been sacked by the club following the 28-0 home defeat in Round 21.
Sky Sports presenter and former St Helens back-rower Wilkin labelled the situation a ‘strange’ one, believing Austin played a big part at the Rhinos.
Blake Austin exit ‘bizarre’ says Jon Wilkin
“It’s bizarre to lose Blake Austin who is head of line break assists, head of assists and has made more breaks than any other player,” Wilkin said ahead of Leeds’ televised clash with Leigh Leopards.
“He’s the potent attacking threat. Blake Austin has really been the answer for Leeds this year.
“To lose him at this stage is bizarre, it’s strange.
“Leeds have played the game with Blake Austin. He’s been playing fantastically well and I think for the first time in a long time, a player has controlled the narrative when it comes to contract negotiations.
“Leeds have dangled the carrot, led him on and he’s gone, ‘Nah, I’m out of here, I’m off to Cas.’”