Leeds Rhinos’ rebuild: Who’s available, who’s linked and who Rohan Smith should go after

Josh McAllister
Leeds Rhinos, Ben Hampton, Logan Bayliss-Brow.

North Queensland Cowboys utility Ben Hampton and Scotland international Logan Bayliss-Brow.

Leeds Rhinos boss Rohan Smith arguably has the hardest job in Super League during the off-season to rebuild his side with a number of exits expected.

Although yet confirmed, Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer look set to depart Headingley Stadium for new moves.

Austin, 32, looks to have already played his final game for the Rhinos following his loan move to Castleford Tigers for the remainder of the season.

The Australian playmaker had been waiting on a new deal at Leeds, but appeared to have run out of patience prompting a move to the Mend-A-Hose Jungle in their bid to ensure Super League safety.

Meanwhile, former Canberra Raiders star Sezer, 32, is expected to return to the NRL next season with competition strugglers Wests Tigers.

Highly-rated forward Sam Walters will join Wigan Warriors on a three-year deal from next season, while winger Liam Tindall is also expected to leave his boyhood club, having turned down a new deal to remain under Smith.

The 2022 Grand Finalists lost former captain Kruise Leeming at the start of the year for a move to the NRL, and are yet to replace the hooker with Jarrod O’Connor having stepped up in 2023.

The likes of David Fusitu’a and James Donaldson remain without deals beyond the current season, although reports have suggested the duo are set to re-sign.

Zane Tetevano, who underwent heart surgery after suffering a stroke during training in June, is also off-contract at the end of the year.

Out-of-contract James Bentley has also been linked with a move to the NRL for 2024.

Gaps in the squad – who’s linked and who’s available?

Smith will already be in the player market to replace his departing halves, having lost out on reported target Adam Clune, who is set to join Huddersfield Giants according to Examiner Live.

Newcastle Knights playmaker Lachlan Miller was also linked with a move, although renowned NRL journalist Barry Toohey has stated that the former Australia Rugby Sevens representative is set to remain Down Under.

Hull KR’s Rowan Milnes is another name who has been linked with the club, with Smith keeping his cards close to his chest when recently asked about the speculation.

Milnes looks set to fall down the pecking order at the Robins following the confirmed addition of Tyrone May from Catalans Dragons, with Jordan Abdull and Mikey Lewis first-team choices.

At 23 years old, Milnes has stood up when called upon, although might not be the right man to lead one of the world’s biggest clubs just yet. There’s no doubting his quality and skill, although an experienced head may be required for the Rhinos.

There are now only a handful of off-contract half-backs in the NRL, including Canberra Raiders’ Matt Frawley.

The 28-year-old spent one season in Super League with Huddersfield Giants back in 2019 but has developed his game since.

During his career, Frawley has found himself a back-up option at Canterbury Bulldogs and Canberra, but has always impressed in the first grade.

Cade Cust may be forced out of Wigan due to the salary cap, although a move to Leeds would seem unlikely at this stage.

A more exciting target could be North Queensland Cowboys utility Ben Hampton.

The 31-year-old has more than 100 games worth of experience in the NRL and is able to play in the halves, full-back and hooker. He is without a contract at the Cowboys for 2024, currently enjoying his sixth season with the club.

The former Melbourne Storm playmaker would be my #1 choice, bringing an experienced head who has the skill and talent to lead a club like Leeds, with experience in Grand Finals – although both resulted in defeats in 2016 and 2017.

Richie Myler back to the halves?

One option could see Richie Myler return to the halves, with several more full-backs currently available in the game.

Luke Hooley has made two appearances to date but may not be quite ready to take the number #1 spot at Headingley Stadium.

25-year-old Corey Allan, who has represented Queensland on one occasion, is without a deal beyond the current NRL campaign with Sydney Roosters.

The former Prime Minister’s XIII representative has made 59 NRL appearances to date, scoring 12 tries, but has only featured nine times in 2023.

Bailey Hodgson could also become available, with the Newcastle Knights youngster in his final season of his three-year contract. He is currently sidelined for the NRL campaign due to injury.

Forward options

Smith, 42, will also be looking to bolster his forward pack, having tied down the likes of Sam Lisone and Justin Sangare to long-term deals in recent months.

However, you would expect at least two new forwards to arrive ahead of next season.

Luke Thompson is set to test his worth on the open market, although is not short of attention Down Under from several clubs.

Elsewhere, Wakefield Trinity stars may be looking at their futures with relegation looming following their defeat to Castleford Tigers.

One name always thrown up is the impressive Jai Whitbread. The Australian is contracted until the end of 2025, but money – and a Super League status – talks.

Wakefield reportedly have already rejected a bid from a rival Super League club this year, with the 25-year-old one of the club’s most consistent performers.

He originally made the move to England with Leigh in 2021 before heading to Belle Vue a year later, having made his debut with Gold Coast Titans in 2018.

Rising youngster Sam Eseh is another forward who has impressed when in the first team, having also represented Featherstone in the Championship. At 28, Renouf Atoni could be another potential target from Wakefield.

Over in Australia, back-rower Shawn Blore is set to exit Wests Tigers, although has already been linked with Hull FC.

Having previously been linked with Warrington, Zane Musgrove is also set to enter the open market having been told by current club St George Illawarra Dragons that he is free to negotiate with other clubs.

Smith has an eye on the future with his recruitment, with the likes of Luis Roberts, Toby Warren and Leon Ruan signed up during his first pre-season with the club. That again could see the Australian coach look to youth, which could include Scotland international Logan Bayliss-Brow.

Having been appointed from Norths Devils, Smith may look to the Queensland Cup for future recruitment. Baylis-Brown is currently plying his trade in the competition with Souths Logan Magpies, having faced some of the game’s biggest names during last year’s World Cup in England. 

The 23-year-old prop is off-contract at Brisbane Broncos at the end of the year, but is yet to make his debut. He represented the Bravehearts during last year’s campaign, featuring in all three group stage fixtures against Italy, Australia and Fiji.

He also represented Queensland at Under-20s in 2019.

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