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James Bentley provides hints at how Leeds Rhinos’ attack could shape up next year

Since Richard Agar took charge of the Rhinos mid-way through the 2019 season, their attack has had a number of stages of development.

Their attacking style greatly changed from the end of 2019 to the start of 2020 with Leeds adopting a much more structured approach which would go on to benefit Richie Myler’s shift to fullback. One of the best attacking sides in the competition in the first half of that season, Leeds secured the Challenge Cup in October of that year.

In 2021, fans were eager to see how the Leeds attack could develop from there only for injuries in the halves to unsettle their attacking structures which had previously brought the best out of players on both sides of the field with wide runners like Alex Mellor, Konrad Hurrell and Ash Handley on the left and Rhyse Martin, Harry Newman and Tom Briscoe on the right benefitting from Luke Gale and Rob Lui’s partnership.

However, in these areas Leeds are experiencing widespread change with Tom Briscoe moving to centre ahead of 2022 and handing the number two shirt over to David Fusitu’a whilst Liam Sutcliffe is set to battle with Briscoe and Jack Broadbent for the centre role now that Konrad Hurrell has moved onto St Helens. Meanwhile, the halves will be completely different with Aidan Sezer and Blake Austin taking the reins at six and seven.

We’ve already looked at how those two are likely to attack next year, but it remains to be seen exactly how they’ll work alongside the aforementioned wider runners like the backrowers, centres and wingers down each side as Leeds look to develop a much more holistic attack in 2022 after scoring just 15% of their tries down the right last season.

Fusitu’a is expected to help solve that problem as a right sided winger whilst Leeds fans will be hoping Harry Newman continues his development. However, it seems the right centre will be joined by another new face in the shape of James Bentley.

Another of Leeds’ exciting new signings, Bentley was awarded the number 11 shirt for next season prompting Alex Mellor to take on the number 15 shirt whilst Rhyse Martin kept the number 12 shirt suggesting that he and Bentley would become Leeds’ first choice backrow next season with Martin likely keeping his place on the right side of the attack where he has played ever since joining Leeds mid-way through 2019.

However, it now seems he may have to figure on the left based on an interview from James Bentley on the club website today. When speaking about the benefits of having David Fusitu’a training after his arrival this week, Bentley noted how he would help his side of the attack: “I think with him [Fusitu’a] on my edge I’m happy, have you seen the size of him? I couldn’t believe how big he was. That’ll do me having him carrying it back for us. I can’t wait.”

Elsewhere in the interview, Bentley emphasised how excited he was for the Boxing Day friendly against Wakefield in which he’ll play in front of Headingley as a Rhino for the first time and in doing so gave further hints at how Leeds’ right edge will shape up: “I can’t wait to play with Blake [Austin] we’ve been doing quite a bit on that right edge with Harry [Newman]. So looking forward to getting out there with all the other lads, getting stuck in and finally getting to play some rugby.”

This seems to indicate that Bentley will be Leeds’ go to right sided second-rower next season taking away the role from Rhyse Martin who has played there since his Leeds debut. Furthermore, it seems to suggest Harry Newman will remain the right centre after a brief stint over on the left in 2021 after his return from injury whilst also hinting that Blake Austin will predominately feature on the right with Aidan Sezer taking the left due to his left foot whilst David Fusitu’a does indeed play as a right winger.

Bentley excelled on the right for St Helens winning the 2020 Grand Final in that role and shining there when fit in 2021 so it should come as no surprise to see him figure there next season but it leaves Martin with an interesting adjustment to make going into next term and puts him in a battle with his former backrow partner Mellor for the left sided spot.

However, speaking about wearing the Leeds shirt for the first time, it didn’t seem to matter to Bentley where he played for his hometown team: “I can’t wait to get that shirt on and get out here in front of that South Stand.”

It’ll be interesting if he does indeed remain on the right or if he at times shifts to loose-forward having played there at times for St Helens last year allowing both Mellor and Martin to play in their preferred positions.

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