Leeds Rhinos have finally announced their statement signings ahead of the 2024 season this morning, with the arrival of Andy Ackers and 2022 Man of Steel Brodie Croft. These two signings are exactly what the Rhinos needed, and they will take the Headingley outfit up another level in 2024.
The Rhinos had a strange year in 2023. On the pitch, inconsistent performances hampered their chances at the top six; and off the pitch it was more akin to a soap opera than a Rugby League club as they lost three key players in dramatic fashion.
The first to leave was Kruise Leeming. The former Huddersfield Giants hooker was club captain the year previous, however in 2023 he was relived of the captaincy and saw him second choice to Jarrod O’Connor. He was then offered to move down under with the Gold Coast Titans and he left Headingley. The second player to depart mid-season was Blake Austin. The Australian halfback dramatically moved across to West Yorkshire rivals Castleford Tigers amidst frustrating contract talks with the Rhinos.
The final player to depart under a cloud was new arrival Nene Macdonald. The PNG centre returned to Australia for the birth of his child, however he didn’t return when expected. Macdonald has since gone on to pen a deal at Salford Red Devils.
Whilst the soap opera was going on away from the pitch, matters on the pitch were just as odd for the Rhinos. They were incredibly inconsistent across the year, which ultimately cost them a play-off berth. A perfect metaphor for Rhinos season were the last three games of the season, which saw them concede 111 points against Wigan and Catalans and then win 46-0 against Castleford Tigers on the last day of the season. This run of games perfectly summed up their season, however next season could look a lot different for the Rhinos.
They have recruited well this off-season even prior to the arrival of Croft and Ackers. Lachie Miller, Paul Momirovski and Matt Frawley have all arrived from the NRL and Mickael Goudemand has added strength to the pack; however the last pieces of the jigsaw have now been added in the form of the Salford Red Devils duo, who are the final pieces of the jigsaw.
Ackers will slot straight into the team perfectly at hooker. His addition will not only bring another experienced head to the spine, but it will also create some depth at hooker. Since Leeming’s departure, the Rhinos have relied heavily on Jarrod O’Connor, and whilst Corey Johnson has seen plenty of game time, a lot of it has come in the halves due to injuries or other unavailability. Bringing in Ackers adds another crucial body to the depth chart in that position and creates that hooker partnership that has worked so well at other clubs this season.
Furthermore, Ackers in a quality hooker in his own right and has been a key part in Salford’s attack-minded side, and will only help the Rhinos get better.
Turning attention to the other new addition, Brodie Croft is the X-factor halfback the Headingley faithful have been crying out for for quite some time now too. He was the heartbeat of Salford’s attack the past two seasons, and this is the chaotic style Rohan Smith will potentially adopt in 2024.
Since Smith’s arrival in 2022, the Rhinos have started playing a loose, unstructured attack; however they haven’t quite had the right parts to play this. Blake Austin could play this way, as we saw at the back end of 2022 as well as that spell in June in which he won Super League Player of the Month, but this is Croft’s speciality. Croft thrived in the chaos of broken field at Salford, and could easily be able to replicate it in Rhinos colours.
Ackers and Croft’s connection from their time at the AJ Bell will also help them settle in quickly as they will instinctively know how each other play, however the other parts around them are just as important. Luckily for them though, the Rhinos have built a brand new spine.
The new arrivals to Headingley will bring a completely new look to their spine this coming year, and more importantly lower the age of it. Last years spine of Richie Myler, Aidan Sezer, Blake Austin, Cameron Smith and Jarrod O’Connor had a combined age of 143, whereas the new spine unit of Lachie Miller, Matt Frawley, Brodie Croft, Cameron Smith and Andy Ackers have a combined age of 136. This lower age of the unit is vital for the Rhinos, as it will likely be kept together for a much longer period of time to its predecessor.
Whilst the age of the spine is a lot lower, they lose none of the experience. Lachie Miller, Matt Frawley and Brodie Croft have all had plenty of experience in the NRL and top flight Rugby League. Andy Ackers is a seasoned professional too, and Cameron Smith is already one of the leaders within the Rhinos squad. This experience will be vital for the Rhinos next season, and the additions of Croft and Ackers are the cherry on top.
Rohan Smith has made his statement signings, and he has already revealed his desire to bring silverware to Headingley in 2024; but can Croft and Ackers aid him on this journey?