Leeds Rhinos have announced that two of their Under-18s Academy players have signed their first professional contracts with the club.
Former Batley Boys and Kippax hooker Bailey Aldridge and former Castleford Panthers forward Jake Higgins have impressed for both the Academy and Reserves sides in 2022 and have been rewarded for their efforts by the Rhinos coaching staff.
After winning the man of match award in his first game at local side Batley Boys, Aldridge went on to win the Yorkshire Cup, Challenge Cup and league title with the club before he moved to Kippax where he was one of five players that were selected for the Rhinos Scholarship.
Last year, he captained the Under-17s to three wins from three matches and so far in his second year in the Academy, he has made a combined five appearances and scored two tries for the Under-18s and Reserves.
Speaking about signing his contract, Aldridge said: “It’s quite surreal to be honest. It’s been a dream of mine since I was five or six years old so I’m really proud to have got to this point now but there’s plenty more to go yet.
“My community club Kippax are proud too. It just shows how much of a great club they are because there’s loads of us from Kippax that are here. Max, Alfie and a couple of other boys so it’s commending to the them for how they’ve helped me.”
Higgins, who played all of his junior rugby at Castleford Panthers, joined the Rhinos this season and has made three appearances for the Under-18s and one for the Reserves. The prop started his first Academy game in a 52-8 win over Newcastle Thunder and a week later he came off the bench for the Reserves.
Commenting on his new contract Higgins said: “It’s one step closer to the first team so I’m just aiming to keep building on it.”, said Higgins. “I’ve been working hard since I joined in pre season but it only took about a week and I was fully in. Everyone was speaking and I was getting tips off the lads and the coaches. I got a few messages from my Castleford Panthers team mates and coaches saying they were over the moon and my parents got to know before I did so it was great when they told me.”
Simon Bell, Leeds Rhinos Head of Academy Recruitment and Operations added: “I’d like to congratulate both Bailey and Jake. They’ve both had different pathways to get to this point.
“Bailey has been with us since he was 14 and has shown some real resilience to earn his contract, while Jake only started with us in December after we’d seen him playing for Castleford Panthers Under-18s. Signing Jake shows that the door is always open and there is always a pathway no matter what level you’re playing at. They’ve both really earned their professional contracts and it’s just a starting point for them to kick on.
“We’ve got a really young talented group that’s going really well in the Academy and Reserves. They’re playing a lot of rugby but the future is bright. Hopefully there will be more to follow these two down the line because the kids at Under-18s are really performing well and improving.”