Following the announcement of Keith Galloway’s departure from Leeds and his retirement from elite level rugby league, Rhinos’ CEO Gary Hetherington has explained that the club “are actively looking to replace him as a senior player in our squad,” further adding, though, that will only occur “if the right candidate becomes available.”
The obvious route would be to recruit another front rower. That is, of course, where Galloway played throughout his career and the Australian had vast experience to his name. Indeed, he earned five caps for his national team and played over 200 times in the NRL for both Cronulla and Wests Tigers. ‘Big Red’, as he was affectionately known, was a player who would guarantee his teams metres due to his size and power but, due to his injury problems, the clubs he represented – most recently the Rhinos – had to find ways to come without 32 year old Galloway.
Over recent years, Leeds have lost forwards aplenty – Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai departed following their treble winning exploits in 2015 – and have, like most teams, had to replace experience with potential and promise such are the salary restraints in Super League. That is something the Rhinos have done very well and, even with Galloway’s presence in the seventeen regularly last season, Brad Singleton and Anthony Mullally established themselves as solid Super League prop forwards and, at 25 and 26 respectively, will provide a strong front row for the reigning champions going forward. In addition to those two, Nathaniel Peteru (26) was recruited in the off season from Gold Coast Titans to compliment the juggernaut that is Mitch Garbutt (28) and offload machine Adam Cuthbertson, the latter of whom is the only recognised front rower now in the Rhinos squad over the age of 30. The highly rated Mikolaj Oledski has been added into the first team squad full time this season and, at the age of 19, is set to be a star for years to come. All in all, one would argue that the Rhinos are well stocked in the front row department currently – barring the club’s injury list at the moment – and recruiting another front rower may stifle the progress and form of those currently at the club.
One position this writer feels, however, that is in need of strengthening is in the second row. Currently, of the seven recognised second rowers in the first team squad (including Jimmy Keinhorst who, arguably, is at his best in the centres, four of the seven are over the age of thirty and both Jamie Jones-Buchanan (36) and Carl Ablett (32) are surely reaching the end of their careers. Indeed, many felt that the former would depart following the club’s Grand Final victory last season and the latter has recently made noises about his Leeds career ending at the end of this campaign. As well as this, the injury ravaged Brett Delaney (32) is likely to call it a day at the end of this campaign. If those three do indeed depart, that would leave Brett Ferres (31), himself a regular injury victim since joining the club in 2016 as one of two recognised second rowers at the club alongside Stevie Ward. Josh Walters could be included in this but he is sporadically featured in the match day seventeen, often only coming in when the club is hit with injuries. Either way, when the veterans depart it will leave the team’s second row – unless recruits are brought in – seriously short of size.
The club, therefore, will probably be already looking at future recruits for the second row berths but it could be argued that using the salary cap space vacated by Galloway’s departure to strengthen the vital area of the pitch would be a wise move for the club. It will be very interesting to see how Hetherington and Brian McDermott do strengthen the club will the free funds as the club seek to build upon their 2017 success this season.