No longer Super League’s most successful club, Leeds have been firmly behind the standard setting St Helens since their last title triumph in 2017. However, there are those who believe their 2022 squad is the strongest at the club since that historic eighth Grand Final win in their ninth appearance at the Theatre of Dreams leading some Leeds fans to believe that 2022 could see the Loiners return to Old Trafford for the first time in five years. With exciting new recruits coming through the door, players returning from injury and exciting youngsters galore, Richard Agar – or whoever ends up in charge at Headingley with Agar set to move into the Director of Rugby role – has a tough job on his hands selecting his strongest team, but that’s what we’re going to attempt to do today.
Fullback: Richie Myler
Jack Walker started the 2020 season on fire. The young fullback looked to have reached a new level creating chances for players out wide and demonstrating sublime support play when breaks were made but an injury against Warrington side lined him for months leading to Leeds unearthing Richie Myler’s brilliance at fullback. He was exceptional in 2020 winning the Lance Todd trophy in the Rhinos’ Wembley win and in 2021 he was again superb. The Rhinos missed him when he was unfit and even despite a couple of annoying injuries he still scored or assisted over 20 times. His form over the last couple of years means he should start the season as the first choice fullback, but if Walker can continue to develop at the amazing rate he’s shown since bursting onto the scene as a 17-year-old, he could wrestle the fullback spot away from the former Catalans man.
Wingers: David Fusitu’a and Ash Handley
Before we begin praising Leeds’ latest signing, we should give credit to Ash Handley. The Rhinos winger finished 2019 with 22 tries just behind leading scorer Tommy Makinson before he claimed the top try scorer award itself in 2020. A great metre-maker, he easily surpasses the 100 metre mark with great regularity and is one of the best players in the league at sniffing out an opportunity. He’ll keep his spot on the left wing whilst on the right David Fusitu’a will likely be handed the reins from Tom Briscoe. The 2018 NRL top try scorer is a powerful outside back with top drawer finishing ability. Capable of scoring when handed very little space, he’ll add to the Rhinos attack next year.
Centres: Harry Newman and Liam Sutcliffe
This, like fullback, is one of the more difficult positions to settle on. Harry Newman, the 2020 Young Player of the Year, is almost guaranteed a place at right centre having returned from injury mid-way through last season and topped his 2020 performances with some remarkable tries. However, over on the left Agar has a conundrum. Sutcliffe was handed the number four jersey so appears to hold pole position where the left centre role is concerned but young Jack Broadbent will be breathing down his neck having displayed great try scoring prowess in 2021. Meanwhile, exciting youngster Levi Edwards could even be considered a strong outside bet for the spot.
Halfbacks: Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer
When it appeared Luke Gale was going to still be at Headingley in 2022, Richard Agar seemed to have a real difficult decision on his hands when it came to selecting his six and seven but Gale’s surprise exit to Hull FC means former Canberra teammates Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer will be reunited in the Leeds halves in 2022. The duo compliment each other nicely thanks to Austin’s dynamic running game and Sezer’s ability to organise.
Props: Mikolaj Oledzki and Matt Prior
There were times last season when Mikolaj Oledzki was the in form prop of the league prior to his frustrating mid-season injuries and the same could be said of Leeds’ captain Matt Prior. The pressure was often left on the duo as Leeds lost their attacking flair due to a series of injuries in the halves. They had to perform at their very best every week to keep the Rhinos in the play-off picture. If they can replicate their good form in 2022, they will give the likes of Sezer and Austin a good platform from which to build.
Hooker: Kruise Leeming
In the absence of Luke Gale and Rob Lui last season, Leeming stepped up at times covering in the halves but shone at hooker claiming a place in the Super League Dream Team ahead of the likes of Daryl Clark, Paul McShane and others. He, like Myler, scored or assisted more than 20 tries in 2021 and even nailed a key drop goal in the Magic Weekend win over Hull FC. He should be expected to kick on again in 2022.
Second-rowers: James Bentley and Rhyse Martin
Leeds are spoilt for choice when it comes to the second-row with Alex Mellor another excellent option in the backrow as well as the impressive youngster Morgan Gannon. Even Sam Walters has massive potential. But based on their squad numbers, James Bentley and Rhyse Martin will be the first choice second-rowers at the start of 2022. However, Bentley did at times impress at loose-forward in 2021 for St Helens when not absent through injury so moving him to 13 and drafting Mellor into the second-row could be an option for Agar.
Loose-forward: Zane Tetevano
However, it seems Zane Tetevano will continue as Leeds’ first choice loose-forward going into next season but don’t be surprised to see him move onto the bench and becoming an impact sub as he often was in the NRL. That said, with definite quality, a bone crunching tackle and a powerful drive, it’d be hard to not include him in the starting 13.
Substitutes: Brad Dwyer, Cameron Smith, Tom Holroyd, James Donaldson
Last season Brad Dwyer and Kruise Leeming ended the campaign as Leeds’ top two try scorers as the pair proved to be quite the threat on the back of a quick ruck. Dwyer shone when attacking tired defences so the return of Leeming to nine will benefit Dwyer and his ability to provide great impact off the bench. Likewise, Cameron Smith offers superb impact off the bench as well thanks to his wide-ranging skillset and ability to break tackles and find an offload. Meanwhile, Tom Holroyd is one of the best young props in the country and will also provide great impact off the bench lessening the blow of having to take off one of Prior and Oledzki. Meanwhile, the hard working James Donaldson offers something similar. His strong tackles and tremendous work rate means he ensures Leeds remain strong down the middle as the game ticks into the latter stages. You might wonder why Mellor isn’t included on the bench. Traditionally Agar opts for three ‘middles’ on the bench very rarely turning to an out and out second-rower hence it’s likely he’ll favour someone like Donaldson or Bodene Thompson.