Leeds Rhinos coach Rohan Smith has hinted at his disappointment over the way Nene Macdonald’s time at the club came to an end and admitted he would be surprised to see him return to Super League in 2024: despite it looking increasingly likely to happen.
Macdonald was released by the Rhinos earlier this week after the club came to an agreement on ending his contract early. The Papua New Guinea international returned to Australia in the final weeks of the season after being granted paternity leave by the club, but he ultimately didn’t return, leading to his contract being cut short.
However, in a bizarre turn of events, Macdonald now looks likely to take up a deal with Salford Red Devils after it was all-but agreed he would sign for the club, with Brodie Croft also appearing destined to head in the opposite direction and sign at Headingley for a significant six-figure sum believed to be £300,000.
Leeds Rhinos boss Rohan Smith weighs in on sour Nene Macdonald exit
When asked on Thursday by Love Rugby League for his thoughts on the Macdonald saga, Smith admitted: “Once he didn’t come back initially, it didn’t look positive in that short-term of being able to contribute at the back end of the year.
“I’ve kept myself out of it and left it to Gary, Nene and his management team. I’m glad we’ve got a resolution, we’re moving on and it creates an opportunity to strengthen our squad.
“We’re in the mix and we look forward to closing something out soon. It hasn’t gone to plan, you’d say, but that’s the nature of life and sport.”
Smith was then asked if he would be surprised to see Macdonald sign at a rival club. He replied: “I don’t know if anything surprises me, but that would be as close to a surprise as it gets for me, yes. I’ve had a couple of text messages right at the point of the week he wasn’t coming back, that’s the only correspondence I’ve had.”
However, a move now looks likely to happen with Salford believed to be on the brink of striking an agreement with the Papua New Guinea international. Salford would be Macdonald’s third club in three years, having played for Leigh last year and Leeds this.
Rhinos will dip into overseas market to replace Papua New Guinea ace
Smith also admitted that any replacement for Macdonald looks set to be a like-for-like overseas signing, with the market for English centres much thinner than it is in the NRL.
He said: “It’s very difficult in the English market. There’s some great English centres, but the depth of talent is not there as it is in the NRL.
“It’s most likely that position will be replaced with a quota position. At this stage, it’ll be a centre we’re looking for. You can only deal with players who are available, but we’re speaking to a few centres and a few other positions.
“We’ve got a bit of versatility with Rhyse Martin playing centre, but I’d envisage Rhyse playing second row next year.”