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Do Leeds Rhinos have a new fullback?

At one stage last season, Leeds Rhinos had three star fullbacks to pick from.

After two exceptional seasons at fullback in 2020 and 2021, Richie Myler had competition from Jack Walker at fullback as the season started before injuries saw former Man of Steel Zak Hardaker return to the club from Wigan Warriors.

It was always assumed that they would have at least two of those players in 2023 despite the arrival of Luke Hooley from Batley Bulldogs.

When Jack Walker signed for the Bradford Bulls, it was assumed that the cap space would be used to tie down Hardaker but he left for Leigh Leopards.

Thus, the question at fullback had been simplified. It seemed Richie Myler was certain for the role and this was confirmed as he was given the number one shirt.

However, in pre-season another player has played far more rugby at fullback than Myler.

Today, Rohan Smith confirmed his team for the third pre-season friendly against Bradford Bulls and again Ash Handley starts at fullback for the third game in a row hinting that Smith could use him there in Super League.

Usual fullback Myler starts in the halves with Aidan Sezer and Blake Austin absent. Instead, he is joined by Morgan Gannon who for the third time features in the halves.

Myler played half of the game against Leigh Leopards at fullback but played the game a lot as a playmaker and kicker alongside two young halfbacks in Gannon and Jack Sinfield.

That Leigh game seemed to be the perfect chance for Smith to play his first choice spine with Leeming, Austin and Sezer all involved. So why start Handley at fullback if not to get him ready to play the role in Super League?

So, the question remains: do Leeds have a new fullback?

Perhaps they do, perhaps Richie Myler could be used off the bench as something different especially now that Leeds’ new substitute nine Jarrod O’Connor is capable of acting as a forward meaning you could feasibly carry both on the bench.

In truth we will likely only know if Handley is Leeds’ new fullback when Rohan Smith names his first Super League side.

He has named his side for Bradford and there is a first appearance of pre-season for Rhyse Martin at centre whilst Cameron Smith returns from elbow surgery to start at loose-forward.

James Bentley is expectantly absent whilst David Fusitu’a again misses out after being a late withdrawal against Leigh Leopards last week through illness.

He has been at the heart of discussions this week after rumours surfaced down under that he was unhappy and wanted an NRL return.

Liam Tindall and Luis Roberts both start on the wings with Derrell Olpherts again at centre.

Sam Lisone has a first start in a Leeds shirt and Jarrod O’Connor comes into the hooking role with no Kruise Leeming.

The game kicks off at 14:30 on Sunday and can be watched on the OurLeague app.

Here is the squad in full:

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