Leeds Rhinos hand professional contracts to FIFTEEN players as Super League club builds for future

A club record of fifteen Scholarship players have signed professional contracts with the Leeds Rhinos.

Marcus Qareqare, Callum Webster, Alex Cowley, Dylan Hutchinson, Dax Millington, Joe Butterfield, Presley Cassell, Harry Smith, Jayemm Oladipupo, Jacob Stead, Elliott Fox, Lore Jones-Buchanan, Harley Thomas, Joe Diskin and Noah Whittingham have all committed their future to Leeds and will move into the Under-18s squad for 2024.

Lock Lane has the most representatives out of the fifteen new signings, with seven players making the next step through the club’s youth pathway. Centre Marcus Qareqare was the Scholarship’s top try scorer this year with ten tries. He is joined by Callum Webster, who played most of his junior rugby for Oulton Raiders before moving to Lock Lane and scored six tries in five games for Leeds this season.

Noah Whittingham also made the switch from Oulton to Lock Lane this year and earns the chance to play for the club’s Academy next year, along with hooker Alex Cowley, half back Dylan Hutchinson, winger Dax Millington and prop Joe Butterfield.

Butterfield spent almost a year on the sidelines through injury, but battled back to make five appearances at the end of the season.

Speaking about signing his first professional deal, Butterfield said: “It’s been a hard journey so far and a long journey with my injury as well. The two years I’ve been in the Scholarship have been great. Even though I missed out on a year between playing at the start of the 2022 season and the end of this season, the lads have all been great to play with.

“The fact that so many players that are moving up have played at Lock Lane gives a good representation for the club. We have all been through the system together so far so we know each other really well and I’m looking forward to the next years in the Academy with them.”

West Bowling quartet Presley Cassell, Harry Smith, Jayemm Oladipupo and Jacob Stead, who helped their club win the Under-16s BARLA National Cup last month, have been rewarded for their efforts with contracts.

Speaking about the new deal Cassell, who has captained the Rhinos in every game this season, said: “I can’t thank the coaches on the Scholarship enough for where they’ve got me. When I first joined, I wasn’t the greatest of players, but they’ve shaped me into the player I am now.

“I’m not at the top of my individual performance, I’ve got a lot of work to do but I’m excited for the challenge and working with Tony Smith. I’ve heard he’s a good coach so I’m excited to play under him and continue to work hard.

“It’s been a big season not just for me personally but for the Scholarship. We couldn’t quite go unbeaten but I’ve worked hard and I think it’s just the start of the challenge now.”

Local side Stanningley, who have regularly seen players rise through the ranks at the Rhinos, are represented by hooker Elliott Fox and prop Lore Jones-Buchanan. Jones-Buchanan, son of club legend and director Jamie, broke into the starting side three times this season and added one try too.

Dewsbury Celtic’s Harley Thomas has been in great form with both boot and ball as the centre finished this year with six tries and 15 goals in a stellar campaign. Finally, Joe Diskin, who played most of his junior rugby for Dewsbury Moor before switching to Celtic in 2023, also scored six tries at full back for Leeds and is the son of four-time Grand Final winner Matt Diskin.

John Bastian, Leeds Rhinos Head of Youth, said: “It is fantastic to see so many talented young players making the next step in their Rugby League journey with us. We want every one of these players to have a purpose at Leeds Rhinos and challenge themselves to be a first-grade player.

“There are challenges that these guys will face, both mentally and physically. The club has always been a huge advocate of youth development going back thirty, forty or fifty years. I think investing in homegrown players is important for the game in this country and the supporters recognise and connect with these local players and have pride in our youth development.”

Mark Butterill, Leeds Rhinos Scholarship Head Coach, added: “This year’s is a really strong cohort. That’s testimony to John Bastian, Simon Bell and Barry Eaton because they’ve done the spade work and been out there on a Sunday morning at junior matches looking out for players to join our pathway.

“When players move up, you have an emotional attachment to them. They’ve been two years of my life, not just at training on a Wednesday and Friday but every day of the week through text messages with parents, and individual one on ones. You create that personal bond where they never forget the first coach they met in the building. I’m excited to see where they go.”