Why Leeds Rhinos are looking to the Championship for signings as potential new arrival flies under the radar

This week, The Yorkshire Evening Post effectively announced Leeds’ latest new recruit for 2023 but the story has somewhat flown under the radar.

That’s because the man in question is on trial at Leeds having starred in the Betfred League One.

The highly thought of young forward the Rhinos have brought in is Leon Ruan. Ruan has starred at Doncaster recently after coming through the Wakefield academy as a Batley Boys product. An exciting young player, Ruan is presently on trial with the Rhinos training with the club fulltime and will likely be handed a deal for 2023 if he delivers on the potential Rohan Smith has seen within him.

At 19 years old, he fits the mould of signings Smith is set to be identifying as new Leeds boss and young Ruan is also a Leeds fan so will likely give his absolute all to the club.

He’s one of many transfer targets Smith has identified from the lower leagues. The Rhinos are expected to sign Batley fullback Luke Hooley who is also a former Wakefield player and can figure on the wing and would act as great outside back cover whilst being a real player for the future for the Rhinos with their current fullback options Zak Hardaker and Richie Myler in the twilight of their careers and Jack Walker possibly headed to Hull FC full time, though he recently admitted that he didn’t know where his future lies.

The Rhinos are also linked with a move for Leigh’s prolific centre Nene MacDonald as Liam Sutcliffe’s replacement with Tom Briscoe set to go the other way as MacDonald’s replacement helping the Centurions get their overseas players under the Super League quota limit with a return to Super League very likely.

Leeds have already signed James McDonnell who, although he played for Wigan recently, has shone in the Championship recently on loan at Leigh.

Meanwhile, another of Leeds’ signings was of course Justin Sangare who has plenty of Championship experience with Toulouse and has been saved from a return to the second tier by Leeds’ acquisition.

The eight-time Super League Champions have of course been linked with Super League stars such as Huddersfield’s departing Ricky Leutele and Castleford’s Derrell Olpherts but their Super League targets are well and truly out numbered by their potential targets from the lower leagues in the shape of Ruan, Hooley, MacDonald and McDonnell.

But why is this? Well Rohan Smith has been very vocal at being a coach who enjoys developing players and their is plenty of untapped talent in the Championship for him to develop moving forward.

It’s also beneficial for the salary cap. This year Leeds spent all the way up to the salary cap after the arrival of Hardaker which meant that when Leeds had other injury problems were unable to make any other signings except the loan arrival of Yusuf Aydin.

It’s probably been one of Smith’s objectives to get Leeds away from this salary cap limit and that is best achieved by bringing in Championship stars.

Think about a choice between Jack Walker and Luke Hooley for example. Though Walker is still a brilliant fullback, he’s effectively Leeds’ third choice in the role but will be on a substantial sum and deserves that given his Super League experience and quality. But replacing him with the hungry Luke Hooley who will likely be on a fraction of the wage would ensure that the salary cap wasn’t such an issue. It would become a cheaper succession plan.

Don’t believe me? It came from the horse’s mouth with Smith himself recently talking about why he’s been targeting so many players from the lower leagues.

He said: “I think it is a good way to manage your salary cap and the succession plan in bringing in players on the fringe. It takes time to develop, the NRL shows that. A bunch of players in the last few years have debuted at 27, Jonathon Reuben made his debut for the Dragons in 29, some people take longer to develop than others.”

It remains to be seen if Ruan will become a permanent Rhinos player and whether the likes of the exciting Hooley and the brilliant MacDonald will join him at Headingley but it certainly looks likely.

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