Leeds Rhinos are expecting an improved year in 2019 after the arrival of new head coach Dave Furner and, after assessing the squad, the Australian and his staff have revealed the club’s squad numbers for the upcoming campaign – with more than one surprise.
After breaking through towards the end of 2017, teenager Jack Walker was promoted in the numbers for 2018 and have been promoted further and will swap the number 24 for the number 1 jersey for 2019, indicating that Furner believes the recently-capped England Knights man will be his first choice full-back. In turn, that has seen Ashton Golding taking the number 21 jersey and, being a player rumoured to be available to leave the club, he may not get chance to pull on the Leeds jersey next year.
Following Ryan Hall’s NRL departure as he links up with reigning champions Sydney Roosters, Walker’s fellow England Knights squad member Ash Handley has been handed the number 5 jersey. After starring as the Rhinos’ top Super League try scorer last season in the centres, the arrival of Tongan international Konrad Hurrell coupled with the imminent return from injury of captain Kallum Watkins was always likely to see the 22-year-old miss out in the centres. He will, however, start 2019 as one of the two first choice wingers and has beaten competition from Luke Briscoe for that spot, the former Featherstone flyer picking up number 24.
Walker and Handley’s England Knights teammate Mikolaj Oledzki’s continued development has been rewarded with the number 19 jersey, the first time the Gdansk-born giant has been included in the squad’s top twenty. Fellow forward Jamie Jones-Buchanan will be marking his twentieth year with the club next season and, suitably, he will be wearing 20 in what is expected to be his final season before retiring. Taking JJB’s newly-vacant number 11 will be one of Leeds’ three new NRL acquisitions, former Australian test international Trent Merrin. Newly arrived from Penrith Panthers, the 29-year-old is adept at playing in the front row but, if the numbers are to offer positional guidance, he is intended to be in the back row. Fellow new boys Tui Lolohea and Hurrell will wear the number 6 jersey – free due to Joel Moon’s retirement – and number 4 respectively.
In order for Hurrell to take 4, Liam Sutcliffe – who made his England debut against France recently – has moved down to 15. Brett Ferres moves from 19 to 16 while Dom Crosby, after making his loan move permanent from Warrington in the close season, has been handed number 17 for his first full Headingley campaign. Other changes see Anthony Mullally drop from 16 to 26, Cameron Smith promoted to 22 while youngster Callum McLelland will wear 23 following his return to rugby league after a brief stint in rugby union.