NextGen: Fergus McCormack – the Leeds Rhinos half-back tipped for the very top

Ross Heppenstall

Fergus McCormack after signing a new contract at Leeds Rhinos. (C) Leeds Rhinos

It is fair to say that Leeds Rhinos have struggled with the transition since their so-called Golden Generation all hung up their boots.

Homegrown stars such as Kevin Sinfield, Danny McGuire, Rob Burrow and Jamie Jones-Buchanan were mainstays of the team for many years as the Headingley giants racked up eight Super League titles.

Life has been tough at times since the 2017 Grand Final win over Castleford Tigers, but the good news for Leeds fans is that their Academy remains a fertile breeding ground and is currently overflowing with promising youngsters.

Fergus McCormack, a 17-year-old stand-off, is rated as one of the most exciting young prospects in the British game. Here, Love Rugby League assesses his potential and career so far. 


McCormack is a local lad who has grown up playing league and union. Leeds spotted him playing the 13-a-side code for Guiseley Rangers and signed him into their Scholarship system.

The 17-year-old signed a full-time contract in November 2022 when he began training with the first-team squad. His first season at academy level, in 2023, ended with him being named under-18s player of the year.

On Boxing Day in 2023, he impressed off the bench in the 41-22 win over Wakefield Trinity in the Wetherby Whaler Festive Challenge.

This is McCormack’s second season as a full-time Rhinos player and he combines his playing commitments with his academic studies at Woodhouse Grove School in Bradford.

McCormack is currently studying for A-Levels in chemistry, biology, physical education and finance. Head of Youth John Bastian says: “After we signed Fergie, he just kept improving.

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“He’s a very active young man who just wants to be involved in rugby – Woodhouse Grove have been superb with him. Joe Bedford, the school’s Head of Rugby, has played a significant part in Fergie’s development, as have Guiseley Rangers.

“Fergie played for Leeds Rhinos’ Under-18s and a couple of reserve-grade games last year, whilst also training with the first-team when it fitted in with his education, which worked really well.

“He’s played both codes but I think rugby league really suits Fergie because he’s so high-energy and enthusiastic about wanting to be around the ball.”

McCormack will play for Leeds’ Under-18s and Reserves this season.

Style of play: “X-Factor”

McCormack is a very creative player who can break the line and unlock opposition defences with a searing run. His game-management also brings out the best in his team-mates and he is fiercely competitive.

Bastian explains: “Fergie is the type of player who, when he steps out on the field, he wants to perform and show off his talent. Whether it be on play one or play five or six, he shares the ball with his team-mates and supports the players around him.

“But he’s also got that X-Factor and, when he runs, he’s very dynamic and very quick. He’s got great footwork and very good vision in finding space in defensive lines.

“Above all, perhaps, he wants to win games and his competitive edge is his stand-out feature but he’s also a very good learner. Fergie wants to learn the game and become a better player. Certainly he’s developing very well athletically alongside that.”

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McCormack’s athleticism, coupled with his speed of thought and movement, have convinced Bastian that Leeds have a special talent on their hands.

He adds: “I have no hesitation in saying that, if he carries on the way he is now, he will definitely be a first-grade player in the future.

“It’s about nurturing young players so that you are not rushing their development but gradually integrating them within your first-team environment and top 17.

“They have to be physically and mentally ready for that level but talent-ready as well. Fergus McCormack has all the potential to be a top Super League player for many years – and go beyond that as well.” 

Family connections

Older brother Ned, 19, was born 13 months before Fergus in February 2005 and is rated similarly highly at Headingley. Ned is a centre who, like his younger sibling, has played both codes, having represented England Under-18s in rugby union.

Leeds signed him last April after beating off interest from Premiership rugby union clubs, who became aware of Ned after he come through the Yorkshire Academy to represent England.

Another Woodhouse Grove pupil, Ned rejected advances from the 15-a-side code to pursue his dream of playing for the Rhinos alongside Fergus.

The centre made his Academy bow in a win over Bradford Bulls Academy at Odsal, scoring his first try in the 50-32 win, before finishing the season with five tries in as many games.

Having impressed Rohan Smith and his staff, McCormack senior trained with the first team during pre-season ahead of the 2024 campaign.

He was awarded the number 31 shirt after being included in the 21-man squad for last weekend’s home win over Catalans Dragons. Ned has previously played junior rugby league with Farnley Falcons and Leeds Leopards.

Bastian says: “Ned has similar attributes to Fergie but is a centre, although he can also play on the wing and be a threat or drop in at full-back.

“Right now, he’s developing just lovely as a centre and, having played in the Academy team, Ned will play reserve grade this year.”

Half-back competition

Close-season signings Matt Frawley and Brodie Croft are Rohan Smith’s first-choice half-back pairing. As seasoned professionals with a wealth of Super League and NRL experience behind them, that is understandable.

Jack Sinfield, 19, is also ahead of McCormack in the pecking order for a place at six or seven.

Yet having impressed against Wakefield on Boxing Day and then gone with the first-team to their pre-season training camp in Portugal, McCormack is clearly ticking plenty of boxes.

Bastian says: “I think there’s a possibility that Fergie could make his first-team debut this year. Whether that’s a cameo appearance – or maybe even a few appearances – he’s got a real chance of it happening in 2024.

“If not, we’ll look to 2025 when I think he will definitely make his debut and start building a small amount of games up.”

Leeds’ Academy is awash with promising youngsters and Bastian adds: “We’re in a really good place right now. Leeds have always produced a lot of homegrown talent but the players we have now recognise the standards that we expect consistently.

“They’re enjoying what they’re doing and we have a first-team head coach in Rohan Smith who’s very proactive in youth development.

“He’s probably as good as I’ve seen alongside his uncle (Tony Smith) in promoting and developing young players and making them very comfortable about what they’re trying to achieve.

“That’s not just Rohan, but the entire staff throughout the club with regards to youth development.”

Player profile

Name: Fergus McCormack
Date of birth: 15/03/2006
Position: Stand-off

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