Leeds have confirmed the signing of Papua New Guinea international centre Nene McDonald on a two-year deal.
Macdonald, 28, links up again with Rhinos head coach Rohan Smith, who coached him at Norths Devils in the Queensland Cup.
As part of the deal, Leeds will travel to Leigh Sports Village in a pre-season game for Leigh’s first game as the Leopards.
He said: “I am very excited and I can’t wait to join up with the Rhinos. This is why you play the game, for the chance to be at the top level and really test myself, especially with a great team like the Rhinos. Joining up with Rohan again was a big part of me coming to Leeds.
“He backed me when I needed somewhere to go when he signed me at the Devils and we won a Championship together, if he wanted me, I was keen to jump on board.
“I am really grateful to Leigh for the opportunity they gave me last year. I was pleased I could play my part in helping them return to Super League. My wife and son love it over here and it was definitely a good decision to come over.
“I can’t wait to put a Rhinos jumper on, I have heard about how crazy the fans are, and I am excited to play in front of big crowds because you don’t get that sort of passion over in Australia.”
The pre-season game will take place on Sunday 22 January, with the teams competing for the Bev Risman Trophy, in honour of the dual-international who served both clubs with distinction.
Macdonald played in all four of Papua New Guinea’s games at the recent World Cup.
He arrived in the UK with Leigh earlier this year, scoring 27 tries in 27 appearances.
The move has long been speculated, with Leigh having recruited more quota players than they had spots for.
Leigh’s head of rugby, Chris Chester, said: “The club would like to thank Nene for his efforts in our promotion winning season, and everyone here wishes him all the best on his move to Leeds.”
Solving the quota problem at Leigh
Macdonald formed a deadly left-edge partnership with Krisnan Inu in the Championship last season, and it is in some ways surprising that his retention wasn’t a priority for the Leopards.
Although he was under contract, talk of a move to Leeds had surfaced many months ago, particularly given Leigh’s quota situation.
Super League’s quota requirements are different to that in the Championship, with clubs only permitted seven non-federation trained players.
They had initially said that they expected to retain all of their signings and find a way around the restrictions, though that no longer appears to be the case.
Although they successfully managed to get Papua New Guinea half-back Lachlan Lam off quota, owing to his junior days at Wigan St Patricks, they were left with eight before Macdonald’s departure.
Tom Amone, John Asiasta, Edwin Ipapa, Kai O’Donnell, Ben Nakubuwai, Blake Ferguson and new signing Ricky Leutele are their other quota players.
Leutele is likely to fill the void left by Macdonald, while former Australia international Ferguson might be another candidate for a centre spot, with Josh Charnley and Tom Briscoe available on the wings.
Zak Hardaker is another player with vast experience at centre, if Adrian Lam opts to play Gareth O’Brien at full-back rather than the ex-Leeds, Wigan and Castleford man.
Another Rohan Smith signing
Rohan Smith had some impact at Headingley after arriving mid-way through last season. He led them not only to a, what at times seemed unlikely, play-off spot but also a return to Old Trafford, where they were beaten by St Helens in the Grand Final.
His fingerprints all over the Leeds’ recruitment strategy for the 2023 season, with Smith having previously expressed an interest in finding talent from the Championship.
While he knows Macdonald well from their time together at Norths Devils, where they won the 2021 Queensland Cup Grand Final, the Kumuls star is another player to make the step up to Super League with the Rhinos.
Centre Luis Roberts has already made the move from Leigh to Headingley, joined by fellow Championship stars Luke Hooley and Toby Warren. France international prop Justin Sangare has also made the switch, having only made his Super League debut with Toulouse last season.
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