Rohan Smith faces a tough challenge this season. The Rhinos have lost several key players during the off-season, with Liam Sutcliffe, Zak Hardaker, Brad Dwyer and Bodene Thompson all leaving the club for pastures new.
These notable departures leave many Rhinos fans wondering what Rohan’s best 17-man squad will look like in 2023, given there is a few notable additions to the squad in the shape of Derrell Olpherts, Sam Lisone and Justin Sangare.
With all this in mind, I have predicted what the starting team and interchange bench could look like come the opening round of next season.
1: Richie Myler
Myler is a player in great form, having come off the back of some good performances for Ireland in the World Cup, as well as forcing Smith’s hand last season to start him at fullback and move Hardaker to the centres. He is sure to be in the starting 13 but with new signing Luke Hooley waiting in the wings, he’ll have to maintain his high level of performances.
2: Ash Handley
Handley was the top scorer for Rhinos last season, and he is a proven finisher in Super League. He arguably should have made the England squad for the World Cup too. He is in line for another big year in Blue and Amber.
3: Harry Newman
Newman is one of the best young players in the country, but injuries have hampered him. Despite this, when he does play, he looks elite level. With the departure of Sutcliffe and Hardaker, he will need another big season in the midfield. It is crucial to the team that he stays fit this season, or the Rhinos could be in trouble in the centres.
4: Derrell Olpherts
A new arrival from Castleford, Derrell Olpherts is a fantastic finisher and will add a new dynamic to the Rhinos backline, whilst also taking some of the pressure off Handley. A winger by trade, Olpherts may find himself in the centres as things stand at the moment given the lack of options there and his versatility value.
5: David Fusitu’a
One of the Rhinos quota players, Fusitu’a is coming off the back of an injury plagued-season last year, but when he played, he showed his quality. The powerful winger needs to remain fit to prove himself, and with a run of games he could still yet become the outstanding talent he’s already proved himself to be overseas.
6: Blake Austin
Austin was one of the stars last season, and really shone after the arrival of Rohan Smith. If the Rhinos are to repeat their form from the back end of 2022, they need another big season from the stand-off. It is really important for him to stay fit this season and showcase his very best.
7: Aidan Sezer
Sezer got some crucial late tries last season, especially against Castleford to take the Rhinos to the play-offs. He is arguably the most important player in Smith’s team and his absence due to concussion was very obvious during the defeat to St Helens at Old Trafford. Sezer needs to stay fit, similarly to Newman and Austin, because he is the linchpin in this team and without him Leeds will struggle.
8: Mikolaj Oledzki
Big Mik picks himself. He had a great season last year, being the only Rhino picked for the Super League Dream Team, as well as making the England squad for the World Cup. Oledzki will be a definite starter and he will be fired up given his limited opportunities under Shaun Wane during recent weeks despite his selection in the squad for the World Cup.
9: Kruise Leeming
The Rhinos captain picks himself. Though Rohan Smith has used him off the bench regularly, he will come into the 2023 season refreshed given a full off-season after he was left out of Shaun Wane’s England squad. Leeming is quality and this coming year could be his biggest ever season under the tuition of Smith.
10: Sam Lisone
The new signing from the Gold Coast Titans will add serious power to the Rhinos this coming season. Will a new role as the starting prop bring the best out of him? Lisone is a no-nonsense player, just the type Leeds need, given one of their weaknesses over the last few seasons has been their inability to cut it in the forwards against some of the better teams in the league, notably St Helens.
11: Rhyse Martin
RHYSSSSSSSSSSE. It’s not just his kicking that makes him a definite starter, Martin has been great asset for the Rhinos since he arrived and the world record holder still has plenty left in him yet. The PNG star is one of the leaders in the squad and his strike in attack and workload in defence makes him a prized possession within the team.
12: James Bentley
Bentley had a very solid season last year and he’s also coming off the back of some good showings at the World Cup for Ireland. Hopefully more of the same next year from the former St Helens man, who appears to have put his poor disciplinary record behind him since the arrival of head coach Smith.
13: Cameron Smith
Smith’s link up play makes him a fantastic option to start at loose forward for the Rhinos. Head coach Rohan loves his ball-players and Cameron is certainly that. Used at half-back during points of last season, the England Knights star has a superb skillset and unrivalled work rate. He is a definite starter.
14: Justin Sangare
The French international took Super League by storm last year at Toulouse, and will add a welcome new dynamic to a Rhinos squad. He has big boots to fill though following the departure of Matt Prior, but he has all the speed and power to fill them.
15: Jarrod O’Connor
Jarrod is unlucky not to be included in the starting 13, especially off the back of his performance in the semi-final last season against Wigan, but he can add a lot of impact coming off the bench, similar to the role Dwyer played last season.
16: Zane Tetevano
A stalwart for the Rhinos last season, especially after returning from his ban. His versatility makes him a fantastic option off the bench and don’t be surprised to see him used in the front-row this coming season.
17: Morgan Gannon
Gannon is another youngster who will be a great asset for the club for years to come. He showed glimpses last season, and notably started a few games, but needs time off the bench to help stake his claim to consistently start.