Leeds Rhinos confirm James McDonnell signing as Rohan Smith’s revolution continues

Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com - 04/02/2022 - Rugby League - Betfred Super League - Wigan Media Day 2022 - Robin Park Arena, Wigan, England - James McDonnell.

The last week it feels like Rohan Smith’s Leeds Rhinos has truly begun taking shape.

Justin Sangare’s arrival next year was confirmed, Smith confirmed that star hooker Brad Dwyer would be leaving at the end of the year, Leeds then battered Wigan in a game that underlined the way he wants the team to play and today the Rhinos have taken something else from the Warriors other than the two points last night.

The Rhinos have confirmed the signing of second-row / centre James McDonnell from the Warriors at the end of the year on a two-year deal which will see him stay at Headingley until the end of 2024.

McDonnell is highly rated and an England Knights international. He scored an outstanding individual try against Catalans as last season drew to a close and has shone on loan at Leigh this year.

On signing for the club, McDonnell said on the Rhinos website: “Leeds is a massive club and I was really pleased to accept their offer. Working with Rohan Smith was a big pull for me. He was the first person I met and had a conversation with and he is the type of coach I want to learn from. This will be my first step outside of Wigan but I am looking forward to moving over to Leeds and starting a new chapter. I came over to Headingley a few week ago and Rohan gave me a tour around the stadium, which is world class.

“The good thing for me is that I know a lot of the lads from England camps so I am not going blind into a new environment because I have already got some good mates there.

“You can see already the difference that Rohan is having on the squad and this is a new start for me and I want to have success with the Rhinos. The club has a massive fan base and hopefully we can give them plenty to celebrate.

“Moving away from my home town club was a massive decision for me. I have loved every minute at Wigan and feel proud and privileged to have played for them. It was hard to say no to the stay but I knew this opportunity was too good to turn down.

“I am enjoying playing with Leigh in the Championship and feel it will be a great preparation for me to join up with Leeds next season. The squad at Leigh is a tight knit family and I am being helped by some very experienced players who have played State of Origin or for their country. It is a Super League standard squad and hopefully I can help them achieve their goals this year and get them back to where I believe they should be, in Super League.”

Whilst Rohan Smith added: “James is an impressive young man who will be a great addition to our squad. Having met with him, he knows what we are looking to achieve here in the years ahead and it was good to speak to him about his own hopes and ambitions. I am sure he will fit in well with our squad and I look forward to seeing him develop over the next few years.”

Verdict:

This is a strange one in some ways. Second-row is perhaps Leeds’ strongest position with James Bentley and Rhyse Martin settled there as the first choice options and Morgan Gannon an outstanding young option in the role.

Sam Walters can also play there and up until recently he saw it as his preferred position.

However, McDonnell’s quality cannot be ignored. He’s in the mould of a top modern backrower and fits the bill for the kind of signings Rohan Smith wants to make: young, British players who he can develop so they take the club forward.

In that respect it makes a lot of sense and is something the Rhinos couldn’t have turned down. Furthermore, Morgan Gannon seems to be developing into a middle playing there for England Knights last year and spending time there when he comes off the bench for Leeds.

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