Jon Wells’ Super League Big Changes Tour – Leeds Rhinos, Hull FC, Hull KR and Castleford Tigers | Rugby League News

Leeds were left with plenty to ponder after finishing the year without a trophy

Leeds were left with plenty to ponder after finishing the year without a trophy

Leeds Rhinos, the two Hull clubs and Castleford Tigers are next up as Sky Sports rugby league expert Jon Wells looks ahead to 2022…

Yesterday we signed off whilst fumbling for passports in Toulouse and heading back to England to continue our club-to-club Big Changes Tour. Well, as we touch down at Leeds Bradford Airport today we only have a short trip to perhaps the best example of the big changes I see at Super League clubs ahead of a crucial 2022.

Leeds Rhinos have acted following another trophy-less season – one season too long for a club with the fan-base and resources at its disposal. Their heavy defeat to St Helens in the 2021 semi-final highlighted the gap which currently exists between the top and the very top, and forced the one-time virtual tenants of Old Trafford to watch on as the new powerhouses of the sport went toe to toe in Manchester.

The Rhinos have responded accordingly, with Aiden Sezer signed from the Huddersfield Giants, followed by his ex-Canberra Raiders team-mate Blake Austin as well as significant additions in James Bentley and David Fusitu’a.

These are four very high-quality signings in my opinion, but make no mistake, this is a real shake up. Out of the door goes fan favourite Konrad Hurrell and their captain for the last two seasons, the man they paid a hefty fee for back in 2019, is gone too.

Luke Gale will be aiming to be a force for Hull FC next season, but more on that in a moment. Added into the mix are the persistent rumours Richard Agar will be moving upstairs and a new head coach will be installed for 2022, although whether that happens ahead of pre-season is another matter.

What Rhinos fans are seeing is a big response, a big reaction, a big change in direction and a real show of faith in their incoming stars that they are willing to install in particular a brand-new half back pairing, again.

Aidan Sezer is one of Leeds' new half-back recruits for 2022

Aidan Sezer is one of Leeds’ new half-back recruits for 2022

The fall-out of that change at Headingley is that the aforementioned Gale will be aiming to be a force instead for Hull FC in 2022, as they look to the England international half-back and former Man of Steel to help them shed the ‘Could Do Better’ tag which has dogged them recently.

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The Black and Whites continue to be an enigma, don’t they? Injury and inconsistency dogged them again in 2021 and an eventual eighth-placed finish, not to mention the ignominy of having to watch their bitter rivals from the east of the city reach the play-off semi-finals, has prompted more change – and I actually think they’ve done a great bit of business here.

I’ll take you up into the stands at the MKM Stadium to show you what I mean, because it is from this vantage point that you will really be able to see just how well Luke Gale will complement this team in harness with Josh Reynolds.

The change is subtle, but it’s there if you look. Marc Sneyd, who has moved on to accommodate Gale’s arrival, is a superb player and genuinely gifted with the boot – but he doesn’t engage the defensive line in the same way as Gale.

Luke Gale has moved to Hull FC following Marc Sneyd's Salford switch

Luke Gale has moved to Hull FC following Marc Sneyd’s Salford switch

There’s a difference here, by the way, between taking on the defensive line – for example, as you will see Austin do for Leeds – and engaging defenders. This is Gale’s huge strength.

Take a look down there as Hull FC practice; the set-up to the plays they are running in attack are that much clearer. Luke has got his edge on point; the start positions, the timing, the angle of the run – all communicated, barked even, to his teammates by a real general of the sports field, all of which will mean that they engage and commit defenders more regularly than before.

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This, in turn, will equate to an extra quarter of a second, more often, for the mercurial Jake Connor and he will take care of the rest.

The big change here was the call to end Sneyd’s FC career because he has been exceptional, in a different way than Gale will be, over a number of years for this team. But I do think that this is the difference for them in 2022 which could turn them into a play-off team.

Tony Smith guided Hull KR to the Super League semi-finals last season

Tony Smith guided Hull KR to the Super League semi-finals last season

Now, since we’re in East Yorkshire, our obvious next stop is Hull Kingston Rovers and what a season they had under the ice-cool guidance of Tony Smith, inspired by the courage and resilience displayed by their former player Mose Masoe in the face of life-changing injury.

It has infused this club with a drive and purpose which means there has been change afoot at the Robins for some time already, and perhaps this is one of a small handful of clubs not reacting in the same way as others. This is well-stewarded organic growth and development in action.

Let’s not be naïve here, there has been some serious money spent in the last 18 months in this part of the city too, but it has been targeted recruitment and the return on that investment has been clear, and it has been tightly focused again ahead of the 2022 season.

In Sam Wood they have secured the services of one of the bright young things making his way in Super League last season and I have been hugely impressed with Frankie Halton every time I have seen him pull on a Featherstone Rovers shirt in the Championship in 2021. They will be great additions and will develop well in that environment.

Lachlan Coote is tipped to make a big impact at Hull KR

Lachlan Coote is tipped to make a big impact at Hull KR

But their key signing for the upcoming season is one of the very best in Super League in Lachlan Coote. He has been absolutely integral to St Helens’ success in the time he has been with them and will add so much to a squad already brimming with promise. Robins fans should be rightly excited at what is to come next year.

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Back along the M62 then, westbound, and the next club we reach is at junction 32, and a visit to The Mend-A-Hose Jungle. The end of the Daryl Powell era has brought with it much change at Castleford Tigers, both on and off the field.

A change in head coach very often means new support staff too, and the incoming Lee Radford has made significant changes in that department. Just poke your head round the door here and you will witness the planning going on between Radford and his long-time right-hand man in Andy Last.

But, since it’s rude to eavesdrop, let’s leave them to it for now and look elsewhere for more big changes at Cas – and they come on the field, where a coach is truly and vicariously judged by the performances their players deliver.

Lee Radford is overseeing the start of a new era at Castleford

Lee Radford is overseeing the start of a new era at Castleford

Tigers fans will, I think, look at their signings with optimism as it gives them a decent clue as to the style of play that they can expect to see in 2022. High turnover of player personnel was inevitable, but perhaps it is best not to analyse the number of players in and out, rather the type of player that Radford has opted for.

It is a real mix of speed (Jake Mamo), durability (George Lawler), power (Mahe Fonua, Bureta Faraimo) and ball-playing ability (Joe Westerman) which, if they click, could really help smooth what is going to be a challenging transition period. Yes, it’s the end of an era at Cas, but that just ushers in the start of a new one for the West Yorkshire side.

And while we’ll take a break for today, we’ll reconvene just down the road tomorrow to take a peek at another West Yorkshire side, also in a state of flux.

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