Leeds Rhinos confirm big Wigan Warriors coup in James McDonnell

Leeds Rhinos have signed Wigan Warriors rising star James McDonnell, 22, on a two year contract from the 2023 Betfred Super League. 

Second row McDonnell, who can also play at centre, was a member of the England Academy side that defeated the Australia Schoolboys back in 2018 alongside current Rhinos Sam Walters, Harry Newman, Corey Johnson, Muizz Mustapha and Tom Holroyd. He also played for the England Knights last season with Holroyd and Morgan Gannon in their win over Jamaica.

Originally from the Wigan St Judes club, he joined his home town team whilst at school at scholarship level and enjoyed a successful career in the Academy with Wigan. He made his professional debut during the Covid hit 2020 season before making a further two appearances in 2021 including Wigan’s final home fixture against Catalans Dragons where he scored his first try for the club, which earned him the Try of the Year award from the Wigan fans.

During the 2022 season whilst at Wigan, McDonnell has been on loan at Leigh Centurions playing successfully for the Championship side, making 13 appearances so far and scoring five tries.

Commenting on signing for the Rhinos, McDonnell said, “Leeds is a massive club and I was really pleased to accept their offer. Working with Rohan Smith was a big pull for me. He was the first person I met and had a conversation with and he is the type of coach I want to learn from. This will be my first step outside of Wigan but I am looking forward to moving over to Leeds and starting a new chapter. I came over to Headingley a few week ago and Rohan gave me a tour around the stadium, which is world class.

“The good thing for me is that I know a lot of the lads from England camps so I am not going blind into a new environment because I have already got some good mates there.

“You can see already the difference that Rohan is having on the squad and this is a new start for me and I want to have success with the Rhinos. The club has a massive fan base and hopefully we can give them plenty to celebrate.

“Moving away from my home town club was a massive decision for me. I have loved every minute at Wigan and feel proud and privileged to have played for them. It was hard to say no to the stay but I knew this opportunity was too good to turn down.

“I am enjoying playing with Leigh in the Championship and feel it will be a great preparation for me to join up with Leeds next season. The squad at Leigh is a tight knit family and I am being helped by some very experienced players who have played State of Origin or for their country. It is a Super League standard squad and hopefully I can help them achieve their goals this year and get them back to where I believe they should be, in Super League,” added McDonnell.

Leeds Rhinos Head Coach Rohan Smith said, “James is an impressive young man who will be a great addition to our squad. Having met with him, he knows what we are looking to achieve here in the years ahead and it was good to speak to him about his own hopes and ambitions. I am sure he will fit in well with our squad and I look forward to seeing him develop over the next few years.”

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