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Rating all 28 of Kevin Sinfield’s signings as Leeds Rhinos’ Director of Rugby

In July 2018, Leeds were in a sorry state. Nine months after winning their eighth Super League title, the Rhinos were in another relegation scarp and were teetering in eighth spot on the ladder after a crushing 46-8 defeat to Wigan. Brain McDermott was given the sack and Leeds legend, former skipper and seven-time Super League Champion, Kevin Sinfield came in as Director of Rugby.

His job was to restore the standards at the club and assemble a squad capable of competing and he did just that guiding them to Challenge Cup success in 2020. To do so, he made over 25 signings as Director of Rugby, but which were the best?

Today we’re rating all 28 signings he made as Director of Rugby from 2018 until his recent departure.

Dom Crosby – 5/10

This signing made all the sense in the world. A Super League Champion and a physical force down the middle of the field, after failing to acclimatise to life at Warrington he joined Leeds on loan to help steer them away from relegation. He initially did just that and signed permanently ahead of 2019 but a series of long-term injuries saw him retire in 2020.

Jordan Thompson – 5/10

Another loan signing Sinfield made in 2018 as they struggled against relegation, Thompson did what he was brought in to do adding depth and size to a squad hit by injury. However, the fact he didn’t stay means he cannot be awarded any more than a five.

Callum McLelland – 6/10

This was a signing that promised so much but chance and circumstance have worked against the young Scottish halfback. He was drafted in at the end of 2018 but not in time to feature for the first team that season. That has been the story of his Leeds career as he continually struggles to get first team opportunities. In 2020, he was drafted in for midweek games alongside fellow youngsters in fixtures they were always going to struggle in. 2021 promised him much when Rob Lui and Luke Gale got injured in pre-season, but he himself has been hit by a number of injuries denying him the chance to grab the first team rugby he needed. When he has played, he’s stood up well but his injuries have denied him the chance to shine. Now a move away looks set to end his Headingley spell.

Tui Lolohea – 5/10

Most of the work for this signing probably went on behind the scenes before Sinfield’s arrival but the Tongan’s capture concluded after the former Leeds skipper had secured his new job. Lolohea’s exciting attacking style and superb skillset looked set to make him a hero to the Headingley faithful but the balance of the team around him didn’t suit his style so he was used in a swap deal to bring Rob Lui to the club.

Konrad Hurrell – 7/10

Leeds’ star man in 2019, he scored 14 tries and created countless for winger Ash Handley. In many ways, he was the reason Leeds avoided relegation that year. He started 2020 like a house on fire but lockdown came at the wrong time for the in-form centre and injuries and self-isolation culminated in a stuttering end to the year. He did play a key role in the Challenge Cup success but he has yet to build on that success in 2021 with more injuries getting in his way. Now, he seems set to join rivals St Helens next term.

Trent Merrin – 7/10

After a slow start, Trent Merrin found some superb form midway through 2019. He was handed the captain’s armband and helped the club turn a corner finishing the year in good form well away from the bottom of the table. For a prop, he scored and created quite a few tries down the middle. Unfortunately, a desire to go home saw him leave after just one season.

James Donaldson – 8/10

A hard working and physical forward, James Donaldson does a job for Leeds anywhere in the pack and often provides superb impact off the bench. Leeds can always rely on him and he was outstanding last season helping the Rhinos to the Challenge Cup at Wembley.

Wellington Albert – 5/10

Leeds needed another big body in 2019 and turned to Wellington Albert. He did a job for the Rhinos in the five games he played for the eight-time Super League Champions but didn’t feature beyond the midway point of that campaign.

Jarrod O’Connor – 7/10

This was a signing with a view towards the future. Sinfield poached O’Connor from Widnes at the start of 2019 and a year later he made his debut. A versatile young forward he can play at nine but is best at loose-forward where his superb skillset allows him to change the point of attack and become a vital cog in the Leeds offence. He works damn hard down the middle too and makes tackles a plenty.

Sam Walters – 7/10

Another youngster Leeds poached from Widnes, Walters too has a big future because of his huge frame. As he gets older, he’s only going to get harder to tackle thanks to his height. In the last two years, he’s developed the areas of his game which needed addressing when he came onto the scene as a raw back-rower.

Ave Seumanufagai – 8/10

Leeds were again behind the eight-ball in 2019 and needed more size down the middle so turned to Cronulla prop Ava Seumanufagai. He gave Leeds exactly what they needed and soon became a guaranteed starter. Vital in the development of youngsters like Mikolaj Oledzki and Tom Holroyd, he too featured in their Challenge Cup win.

Rob Lui – 8/10

Speaking of players Leeds needed, the Rhinos were in desperate need of a smart organising halfback and turned to Rob Lui. They swapped Tui Lolohea for the stand-off and Leeds instantly turned a corner and finished the season strong. In 2020, he and Luke Gale formed a good partnership in what was a successful year for the Rhinos. His best rugby in a Leeds shirt has come this year when he’s been able to shrug off injury problems. With a strong running game and attacking smarts, he’s an underrated half who has been key in Leeds’ unlikely journey to the semi-finals this year.

Shaun Lunt – 5/10

This signing had the right ideas behind it. Leeds were struggling for the right balance at nine with Matt Parcell and Brad Dwyer not working as a partnership even if both were great players. Parcell was moved on to create a quota spot and an organising hooker was drafted in on loan in the shape of Shaun Lunt but a number of injuries stopped him from making the impact he’d have wanted.

Rhyse Martin – 8/10

Another of the mid-season signings Sinfield orchestrated to get Leeds headed in the right direction, he added some x-factor to the Leeds pack scoring their try of the season in 2019. In 2020, he kicked on especially in the latter half of the year scoring in both the quarter-final and semi-final of the Challenge Cup. This year, despite a difficult start, he’s been excellent especially in the goal-kicking department.

Kruise Leeming – 9/10

Things didn’t get off to the perfect start for the ex-Huddersfield man when he arrived in the winter of 2019 ahead of 2020. He picked up a long-term injury which saw his debut pushed back until August because of the pandemic. However, since coming off the bench to make his first Leeds appearance against his former club, he’s only got better and better. A smart nine who can organise, he is also electric when jumping out of dummyhalf and has a superb kicking game. He’s been Leeds’ best player this year for me and has been a superb attacking threat this term with 14 assists and 10 tries this year and was subsequently named in the Dream Team.

Matt Prior – 9/10

The plan always was to bring Matt Prior in alongside Trent Merrin. That never happened but Prior has ended up being the perfect replacement for his fellow countryman in the middle. He’s the player Leeds have needed since Jamie Peacock’s retirement. No player in Super League works quite so hard and Leeds’ 2020 player of the year also has other outstanding areas to his game like a killer offload and a pass befitting of a halfback which is why he’s so key to the Leeds attack. Now the Rhinos captain, Leeds fans were ecstatic when he signed a two-year extension.

Alex Mellor – 8/10

When Alex Mellor became available, a number of top teams were circling the Giants second-rower due to his ability to hit a killer line and his superb work rate in both defence and attack. Leeds won the race for his signature and he’s been an underrated but key part of Leeds’ last two seasons. His commitment to short lines as a decoy runner helps create space for others out wide and his ability to do 80 minutes of tough work shows his underappreciated value.

Luke Gale – 8/10

In 2020, Luke Gale was a 9/10. In 2021 less so. That’s not entirely his fault. His pre-season was ruined by injury and he’s struggled to string games together due to injuries and suspensions this term. Of course, the controversy with coach Richard Agar won’t have helped either. That said, his quality in 2020 and at times this year should not be forgotten. He kicked Wigan to death in the Challenge Cup semi-final last year in the best kicking performance of the season from any number seven. He also notched the drop goal which won Leeds the cup. That was one of a number of decisive drop goals he’s come up with as a Rhino.

Bodene Thompson – 7/10

When Leeds secured Bodene Thompson’s services last year it was most definitely a savvy signing. The Rhinos were facing an injury crisis in the backrow and had been after another big body for some time and Thompson fit the bill. He did a job at second-row initially before making an impressive switch to loose-forward. This year he’s even done a job at prop. That sums up his time at Leeds. He always does a job when called upon.

Rhys Evans – 5/10

Going into last season, Leeds also wanted another outside back to provide cover and turned to former Grand Finalist Rhys Evans on loan. He did a sound job when playing alongside the youngsters in the aforementioned mid-week games but it was never going to last with the emergence of Jack Broadbent and Liam Tindall making him a spare part going into 2021.

Brett Ferres – 6/10

Another man who often featured in the midweek games for the Rhinos, the 2017 Grand Final winner with Leeds was brought back to Headingley to give Leeds much needed squad depth as they faced the prospect of an unusual season. He did at times step up alongside Leeds’ first choice side as well even doing a job at prop.

James Harrison – 6/10

Like Ferres, James Harrison joined Leeds on loan from Featherstone and did a sound job when called upon. His quality was there for all to see and has seen him earn a move to Warrington this year. Leeds could go onto rue not signing him up permanently at the end of last year.

Zane Tetevano – 7/10

When the New Zealand international and 2018 NRL Grand Final winner signed for Leeds, he noted Sinfield’s importance in the move showing the value of the ex-England captain in ensuring big name signings. Tetevano was a major coup and promised so much. When he has been good he’s been really good but injuries and suspensions have stopped him from building the momentum he’d have liked. 2022 should be a much better year for him.

King Vuniyayawa – 7/10

Tetevano’s arrival was always planned but the departure of Seumanufagai was not and prompted Leeds to again look for another prop. They stumbled across another hard name to spell in King Vuniyayawa. The Fijian has done a superb job when called upon this term bringing great energy to the Leeds side when starting or coming off the bench. Unfortunately for Leeds, he’s headed to pastures new next year.

Kyle Eastmond – 3/10

This was a real exciting signing and looked set to solve Leeds’ problems following the pre-season injuries to Rob Lui, Luke Gale and Jack Walker. He wasn’t fit to feature in Leeds’ opening three games, played twice and then retired. It was a rotten shame considering the calibre of player he once was. It just wasn’t to be and he must be credit for calling it a day when he realised he couldn’t play to the level he wanted to.

James Bentley – 8/10

Although James Bentley is still a St Helens player, there’s no denying that this was a brilliant signing by Sinfield. There are few better young backrowers in the league. In fact, there are few better backrowers in the league in general due to his physicality and skillset. Like a young John Bateman, he provides real toughness as well as class and is a major coup for Leeds one that signals their intent moving forward. This signing could of course go wrong but right now, in principle, it’s a great signing.

Aidan Sezer – 8/10

As is this signing. The runner-up for the Man of Steel in 2020 Aidan Sezer is a class act and in terms of available Super League halfbacks, there were none better when Leeds went looking for Rob Lui’s replacement earlier this year. A superb organiser, but also equipped with an attacking flare, he and Gale could form one of the league’s best halfback pairings next year.

Blake Austin – 8/10

Blake Austin might have something to say about that however. The Warrington stand-off has a superb running game and versatility but crucially he’ll give Leeds key depth in the halves which they’ve lacked at points this year which makes this a good signing in principle like Sezer and Bentley. Of course, all three could yet go wrong but I would be surprised if that was the case. This signing was announced after Sinfield’s departure, however we can assume he played a role in securing Austin’s services.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. A normal fella

    September 26, 2021 at 6:59 pm

    For crying out loud. At least read this back to yourself before posting.

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