Jon Wilkin slams “bizarre” decision to let Blake Austin leave as he claims Leeds Rhinos ‘led him on’

Friday marked the deadline for payer registration and as a result we saw some key player comings and goings last week with ex Wigan Warriors man Oliver Gildart joining Leigh Leopards being a major one, but it was topped by the shock move of Blake Austin from Leeds Rhinos to Castleford Tigers.

Austin was off contract at Headingley for 2024 and had been vocal on his desire to stay with Leeds, going as far to use a post game Man of the Match interview to call on Chief Executive Officer Gary Hetherington to ‘get the cheque book out’.

The move seemed to happen very last minute as well with Austin describing it as ‘the strangest 12 hours’ of his rugby league career.

Given the sudden nature of it there have been question marks over what has gone on behind the scenes but for Sky Sports pundit Jon Wilkin the bigger question was ‘can Leeds afford to lose Austin?’

“Well it’s bizarre now to lose Blake Austin who’s head of line break assist, head of assist, made more breaks than any other player so as a potent attacking threat Blake Austin’s really been the answer for Leeds this year so to lose him at this stage, I think it is bizarre. It’s strange,” Wilkin explained.

“Leeds have played the game with Blake Austin, he’s been playing fantastically well and I think for the first time in a long time, a player’s controlled the narrative. When it comes to contract negotiations, Leeds have dangled the carrot, led him on, led him on. Well, he’s said, ‘no I’m out of here, I’m off to Cas’.”

Jamie Jones-Buchanan, who still works with Leeds, confirmed that he ‘didn’t like the way’ in which Austin has left stating that he ‘wasn’t keen’ on the deal.

Wilkin continued: “Yeah but Blake Austin’s Blake Austin right? He came here and people say about Blake, well look he’s a great player but he’s an individual and you’ve really got to work him into your organisation.

“For me, Leeds, in the recruitment, decided to take him on and when you do that, it takes some of the baggage that it brings to the player. He’s a maverick, he’s an individual, all of the things that are great about him.

“So, for me, what they did wrong was they knew he’s not going to stay at the end of this year. They dragged it out to the point at which it broke and it’s broken. Blake Austin’s gone now with just seven games left.”

Leeds played today with Corey Johnson in the halves instead of Austin with the hooker playing fine, but in a game lost by just seven points you’d have to question if any Austin magic would have broken the game open and secured Leeds the two points.