Clubs like Leeds Rhinos, Wigan Warriors, Warrington Wolves, Hull FC and especially Hull KR have all completed outstanding signings for the 2024 season.
The Robins have drafted in Niall Evalds from Castleford Tigers, Leigh Leopards centre Oliver Gildart and Bradford Bulls backrow AJ Wallace.
They have also signed Peta Hiku from the NRL and Catalans Dragons’ Tyrone May.
They have now signed Jai Whitbread after Wakefield Trinity suffered relegation with the prop joining the Robins on a three-year deal from the 2024 season after the release of Rhys Kennedy.
Though reported elsewhere, Serious About Rugby League understands Hull KR faced no competition from Leeds Rhinos for his signature.
The Australian forward makes the switch to East Hull from Wakefield Trinity after two stand-out seasons in West Yorkshire.
Having come through the grades on the New South Wales and Queensland border in Tweed Heads, Jai featured for Burleigh Bears before joining NRL side, Gold Coast Titans.
Whitbread made his NRL debut for the Titans in 2018, making 30 appearances for the Queensland club before joining Leigh Leopards on a short-term deal midway through 2021.
Jai joined Wakefield for the 2022 season, making 39 appearances for the club during his two-year stay, scoring five tries. With dangerous late footwork and a strong passing game, the hardworking forward racked up 1,473 metres along with 24 tackle busts this year.
Speaking to hullkr.co.uk on his move to East Hull, Jai Whitbread outlined his excitement to join the Robins from 2024: ‘I’m very excited to be joining the club. You’ve just got to look at what’s been happening at Hull KR this year, it’s a very exciting time for the club.’
‘I had a conversation with Willie (Peters) and he explained his vision for Hull KR and the Board of Directors’ vision for the club. It was very attractive for me as a player just to hear what’s being put in place and the improvements all around the club, it was all positive.
When asked on what he’d bring to the club for 2024, Whitbread outlined his hard work and determination as key to his style of play in the front row: ‘I will bring my game (to Hull KR), which is built on hard work.
‘I consider myself as someone who works hard for his teammates and I’ll put my best foot forward every time I take the field. I’ll be making sure the fans and the club get the most out of me next year.’
Ahead of his move to Hull KR, Jai spoke with former Wakefield Trinity players and current Robins, James Batchelor, Yusuf Aydin and Corey Hall on life in East Hull: ‘I’ve been speaking to them before this all came to light. I was interested in how they were going with the club.
‘Every time I spoke to them it was always positives. I’m keen to get amongst the group, train hard and work towards the goal of silverware.’
Reacting to the deal, Hull KR Head Coach, Willie Peters was delighted to welcome Jai Whitbread to East Hull: ‘Jai was a sought after front rower in the competition this year. There was a number of teams that wanted Jai’s services for 2024. We see him as an important signing for the club.
‘Jai plays long minutes for a prop and he’s right up there in terms of the stats in comparison with the best front-rowers in the competition.
‘We think he’s going to add a lot to our pack next season. With Jai only being 25 years-old, if he continues to work hard there’s no doubt his best years are ahead of him.’
On Kennedy’s release the club said:
“Hull KR can confirm prop forward, Rhys Kennedy has departed the club after being released from the final year of his contract.
“Kennedy joined the Robins from Brisbane Broncos in the off-season and has gone on to make 26 appearances for the side in 2023.”
Hull KR Head Coach, Willie Peters paid tribute to the departing forward: ‘On behalf of the club, I want to thank Rhys for his contribution to Hull KR this season. We wish him all the best for the future along with his partner, Jordynne.’