Leeds Rhinos sign up 12 players as Rohan Smith and Chev Walker look to the future

Leeds Rhinos have announced that 12 players from the club’s Scholarship programme have signed new contracts that will see them progress into Chev Walker’s Under-18s Academy squad in 2023.

The cohort officially signed their contracts as part of a special signing breakfast hosted by the club last week for players and their families. After an introduction by the club’s Chief Executive Gary Hetherington, the Rhinos’ Player Pathway Development Manager John Bastian, Head of Academy Recruitment and Operations Simon Bell and First Team Head Coach Rohan Smith all took to the stage to welcome the next generation of Rhinos talent.

Guiseley have four players represented, with second rower Archie Hurford, wingers Ben Findlay and Harry Taylor and half back Fergus McCormack all making the step up to the Under-18s next year. Taylor has had a standout season in the Under-16s, scoring six tries in as many appearances, whilst McCormack, who has experience playing Rugby League and Union, has also scored six this season.

Findlay, who played for five different community clubs during before signing for the Rhinos, missed most of the season through injury, but he has continued to make an impression on the coaching staff, with two tries in as many appearances in 2021.  Hurford, who played for North Leeds Leopards before joining Rangers, has made six appearances over two years under Butterill.

Speaking about signing his new contract, Hurford said: “I’m really over the moon. I can’t thank my family enough for helping me out with it and it’s just a great achievement to get my first ever contract with the Rhinos.

“I’ve really enjoyed my time at Guiseley and would like to thank Tony Peel and all the other coaches there for everything they did for me.”

Four of the 2023 intake come from East Leeds.  The quartet from East Leeds have plenty of silverware to their name, including two BARLA Cups, two Leeds and District Cups, the Yorkshire Challenge Cup and two division one titles. Hooker, Mason Corbett has only missed two games for the Scholarship and he has scored three tries. Prop, Mark Nelson played in three out of four games for the Under-16s in 2021 but was restricted to two appearances this year through injury.

Declan Ementon was signed at the start of the year and has impressed in his six appearances to earn an Academy deal. Fellow forward Bobby Hartley, who is following in the path of his brother Kiedan who played in the Rhinos Pathway, featured in every Under-16s game this season.

Commenting on his deal Hartley said: “It’s a dream come true. I’ve supported the club since I was a little boy so it’s surreal. It’s good that a group of us are progressing. We’ve worked hard this year and we all deserve it.

“There are many players that have come through this system, like Morgan Gannon, so it’s an eye opener to say I can do that as well. I’m really looking forward to playing in the Academy competition too. Chev is a good coach, he looks after everyone and he’s made us all feel very welcome.”

Hunslet Parkside full back Kai Taylor-Smith, son of three-time Grand Final winner Lee Smith, has been hot with the kicking tee this season as he’s racked up 37 goals and 90 points to earn his deal with the Academy.

Half back Jack Purtill, from Leigh Miners Rangers, whose dad Keiron is a former Wigan and Leigh scrum half and current Hull FC assistant coach, was one of five players that joined the Under-16s midway through 2022 but fitted in seamlessly to finish the season with a try in three appearances.

Halifax side, Siddal, have two players that are following the likes of Tom Holroyd, Levi Edwards and Morgan Gannon by stepping up into the Academy. Prop Joe Phillips captained the Under-16s twice this year, whilst outside back Riley Sunderland was another new face that joined the club midseason and made one appearance against Hull KR.

Leeds Rhinos Player Pathway Development Manager John Bastian said: “There’s been a lot of hard work that has gone into these signings, from the talent ID guys that go out to games week in, week out, from all the work that’s been done in the Scholarship and certainly from the community clubs, because they play a significant part in progressing players to professional clubs.

“It’s important for us to keep progressing homegrown players that have come through our system. Leeds have always been famous for that, and I think we want to continue being famous for it. I want these players to keep loving their rugby, giving it their best and do everything that you can to achieve the ambition of being a rugby player. But they also need to be good blokes, set good standards and we’ll see where they end up.”

Under-18s Academy head coach Chev Walker added: “It’s always exciting when the new cohort comes in. Not only for them, but for the parents as well and all the good work that the Scholarship has done. For me, when you put it in black and white terms, it’s getting your foot in the door. The next one is trying to get a first team contract and then from there on in, it’s looking higher from that.”

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