2017 saw the end of an era for Leeds Rhinos. Following their eight Super League Grand Final victory, two Rhinos legends left the club; Rob Burrow for retirement and Danny McGuire for pastures new at Hull KR. Having played around a thousand games between them for their boyhood clubs, the Rhinos have to replace two British rugby league icons and, now McGuire has moved on, a new captain must be named. Here we look at some of the candidates.
A Rhinos player for all of his professional career, Kallum Watkins has established himself as one of England’s best centres as well as one of the most consistent players in Super League. This season has seen him take over as a reliable goalkicker while also being a solid defensive presence as well as being a big attacking threat. His size and power has seen another good season for the 26 year old end in silverware and, as vice captain already, he is a definite contender for the Rhinos’ hypothetical armband. One of the highest profile players in Super League, Watkins has already learned how to deal with the pressure having been a regular for the West Yorkshire giants since he was 18 years old. Furthermore, he is an articulate, calm talker when participating in press conferences and interviews. Couple this with his experience of the highest level of rugby league as well as knowing the club like the back of his hand, Watkins is a definite contender to be named Leeds Rhinos’ captain for 2018 and beyond.
Leeds’ very own warrior, Stevie Ward has dealt with more adversity in his life than many of his rugby league counterparts. Aged only 23, Ward has been very open about his mental health difficulties over the past couple of years – as has Watkins – mainly borne out of his serious injury problems which has plagued his career thus far. Nonetheless, he has been a huge player for the Rhinos and this season saw him nail down a place as one of the best second rowers in Super League. Only missing out on the England World Cup squad because of the injured shoulder which, after dislocating and then playing in the Grand Final just 8 days later, he wants to fully recover for the 2018 campaign, international honours won’t be far away for the Leeds native. Like Watkins, Ward has come through the youth system at Headingley and a man who knows the club and it’s values would be a huge positive for captain and leader. Having set up an online magazine, Mantality, from scratch as a result of his mental health problems, Ward is definitely well versed in speaking articulately and sensibly to the media which is a huge part of being the captain of such a big club. Furthermore, the man seems like nothing short of a leader and an example and, much like coach Brian McDermott, Ward would run through walls and play through the pain barrier for his team and teammates. Perhaps he could be the man to lead the Rhinos into the future?
Super League’s offload king, former Newcastle Knight Cuthbertson has been at the Rhinos since 2015. He featured off the bench in the memorable Grand Final victory which saw club legends Kevin Sinfield, Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai depart the Rhinos and, after being handed the number 10 shirt in 2016 vacated by Peacock, he was a regular player in the season of struggle following that Grand Final triumph. He has, in that time, established himself as one of the leaders and biggest talkers to don the blue and amber in the past two seasons and would be a very popular choice amongst his teammates to be captain. An unorthodox player, ‘Cuthbo’ has started playing at loose forward more than prop forward to harness the quality of his offload game which has seen him set up tries aplenty as well as making space for his teammates. He also scores a huge amount of tries for a forward – what more do fans enjoy than seeing their team’s captain leading by example and getting points on the board? Already 32, he wouldn’t be a long term captain which may count against him – but that, of course, is down to Brian McDermott.