The Rhinos are recognised as having the best academy system in the game having produced the likes of Rob Burrow, Danny McGuire and Kevin Sinfield. The current crop of players have been coached by another successful Academy graduate in four times Champion Jamie Jones-Buchanan and will now take the next step on their professional career.
The group of ten includes one of the best young stars in the country in stand off Stevie Ward, who this season won the Inaugural John Holmes Trophy as the best schoolboy player in the Leeds & Hunslet Schools district. The ten players come from eight different amateur clubs showing the strength of the junior game at present. Ward is joined by Hunslet Warriors team mate Josh Sunley, who is a fullback or wing.
Wetherby Bulldogs provide two players in hard hitting forward Ben Finder, a current England Youth international and back row Alex Foster, who earned a contract with some strong performances for the Rhinos U16 side.
As usual Hunslet Parkside has once again produced a player for the Rhinos with skilful stand off Marcus Elliot showing his ability with ball in hand and with the boot during the recent U16 season. Two other strong amateur clubs in the area have also contributed to the next generation. Drighlington, who produced England star Lee Smith in previous years, provide prop Matty Blake, who will be looking to build on a strong season with the Under 16s, whilst East Leeds, the former home of current Rhinos star Danny McGuire, have developed Gerry-Lee Pierre, a strong running winger. Finally, from the Leeds area is another exciting winger in James Duckworth from Whinmoor Warriors who was one of the most prolific try scorers of the Scholarship competition.
Two players have joined the club from further afield. Head of Youth Development Barrie McDermott has returned to his old amateur club, and the side who originally produced Kevin Sinfield, by signing Jack Cooke from Waterhead. The lightening fast centre was previously on the Wigan scholarship but will now make the move across the Pennines. Whilst workaholic loose forward Ryan Bradbury will join from Oldham St Annes to complete the line up.
Commenting on the new recruits McDermott said, “Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Pete Clarkson and the other Under 16 coaches and staff have done a tremendous job with this group of players and each of the guys have earned their place in the Rhinos Academy. We have a proud record of developing young players, not just for Leeds but for a career in professional rugby. We develop our young people in the right way, both on and off the pitch, and these ten are the fortunate few who will get the chance to show that they deserve the chance to pull on the blue and amber jersey.
“This is just the next step, they now have the opportunity work hard and impress their coaches to take their career on the next level. At the Rhinos will we will give them every support necessary but the key ingredient is their dedication and commitment to succeed. They will follow in the footsteps of most of the first team here at the Rhinos and that is a great motivation for these young men. They know that here at Leeds if you are good enough you will get your opportunity and I am excited for all of them as they embark on their professional career.
“On behalf of the club, we must say a massive thank you to all the amateur coaches and administrators who put in hours of work to help encourage these players and give them their first taste of the game. Without their dedication there would be no game and we are indebted to them, the Leeds area in particular is the envy of most Rugby League districts with such a positive relationship with the Rhinos Sam Horner, our Community coach liaison officer, who works tirelessly with all our amateur clubs” added McDermott.