Rhinos confirm Merrin departure and Prior signature

Leeds Rhinos have confirmed that Australian international Trent Merrin, who captained the side last year after the departure of Kallum Watkins, has been allowed to leave the club on compassionate grounds to return home to Australia, where he will join the St George Illawarra Dragons.

“On behalf of everyone at the Rhinos, we would like to wish Trent and his partner Jess all the best for their future back in Australia,” said Leeds coach Richard Agar.

“I know this is something that Trent has tried hard to resolve, but in the end his family comes first and he will leave with our best wishes.”

The Rhinos have replaced Merrin by confirming the signing of New South Wales State of Origin forward Matt Prior from Cronulla Sharks on a two-year contract.

The 32-year-old prop has played over 250 games in the NRL and played for New South Wales in 2018. An NRL Grand Final winner in 2016 with the Sharks, Prior was an ever-present for them last season, starting all but one game. He will team up with his former Cronulla team mate Ava Seumanufagai, who moved to Emerald Headingley last summer and he will join the club subject to completing a medical.

Originally from Wollongong, Prior played his junior rugby at Thirroul Butchers before signing for his home town club of St George Illawarra Dragons in 2006. He made his NRL debut against North Queensland Cowboys two years later and won his first NRL Premiership with the Dragons under Wayne Bennett in 2010, coming on off the bench in the Grand Final win over Sydney Roosters. The following year, he started at loose forward as the Dragons defeated Wigan Warriors at the DW Stadium in the World Club Challenge.

He moved to Cronulla Sharks in 2014 and two years later started in the Grand Final win over Melbourne Storm. A consistent performer for the Sharks, he has made over 2,000 metres in each of the last four seasons, averaging at 95 metres per game during his time at the Sharks, and had a tackle success rate last season of over 90%.

Commenting on the signing Director of Rugby Kevin Sinfield said, “We are delighted to have secured a player of Matt’s undeniable experience on a two-year contract. He is someone we have looked at for a while and he will be an uncompromising addition to our squad. He has been part of two NRL Grand Final winning sides and was part of the New South Wales State of Origin squad in 2018.

“Having spoken to him over recent weeks, I know how much he is looking forward to joining the club and the new challenge of playing in the Betfred Super League. It is disappointing to lose Trent but we fully understand his reasons for returning home. He leaves with our best wishes for him and Jess and their new family.”

Prior added, “I know that Leeds Rhinos have a fantastic history but have had some tough times in recent years. Hopefully I can play my part in lifting the club’s fortunes and get us back to challenging for silverware again. I know Ava Seumanufagai and Adam Cuthbertson well so it will be good to catch up with those guys and I am sure everyone will make me feel at home.

“I nearly signed for the Rhinos a couple of years ago but we didn’t get the deal done, so this is something I have always had in my mind. It is an exciting time to be moving to Super League with players like Sonny Bill Williams, Gareth Widdop and George Burgess coming into an unforgiving competition and I can’t wait to get involved with the Rhinos boys in training.”

Richard Agar added: “We were already in the process of signing Matt and I was looking forward to seeing him lining up alongside Trent but unfortunately that will not be possible now. However, Kevin Sinfield is working hard behind the scenes to complete our squad. Unlike most of our rivals, we still have flexibility to bring in players, which we did successfully with Rhyse Martin and Ava Seumanufagai last season, and the market is still very much open in terms of players availability both here and in the NRL if the right player becomes available.”

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