IN recent years, Super League has struggled to attract many of the NRL’s better players for myriad reasons but, thankfully, that seems to be changing.
Leeds Rhinos and Hull KR both announced major captures from Down Under yesterday with the respective signings of international duo Trent Merrin and Kane Linnett for 2019.
They are just the latest new arrivals from the southern hemisphere’s premier competition and there could be more to come before the new season kicks-off in late January.
It is pleasing to see after the combination of NRL’s rocketing salary cap, a poor exchange rate and the persistent attraction of rugby union saw the quality of import dip of late.
Leeds, especially, are making their mark having made Merrin, the rugged Penrith Panthers forward who has represented both New South Wales State of Origin and Australia, their second ‘marquee player’ for 2019.
At 29, he is arguably in his peak and has agreed a four-year deal joining fellow ‘marquee’ recruit Konrad Hurrell, the blockbusting centre attracted from Gold Coast Titans.
Desperate to regain their position as Super League’s leading light after another brush at the wrong end of the table, Rhinos had already secured his Tonga team-mate Tui Lolohea, the Wests Tigers stand-off.
Although not investing as heavily, the Robins’ capture of North Queensland Cowboys’ centre/second-row Linnett could be just as crucial to their own hopes of improving in 2019.
With an impressive strike rate of 54 tries in 162 games for the Cowboys – with whom he won the 2015 NRL Grand Final alongside the legendary Jonathan Thurston – he brings both quality and vast experience to Tim Sheens’s side.
He has already tasted life in the UK having represented Scotland (Linnett qualifies through his mother) in the 2013 World Cup and also scored in the Cowboys’ World Club Challenge win over Leeds at Headingley three years later.
At 29, he is arguably in his peak and has agreed a three-year deal joining fellow ‘marquee’ recruit Konrad Hurrell, the blockbusting centre attracted from Gold Coast Titans.Dave Craven
Having recruited fellow countryman Mitch Garbutt from Rhinos earlier this week, the Robins pack suddenly looks like one that could cause real damage.
Linnett, also 29 and arriving on a three-year contract, has certainly set his sights high.
“Having a senior role, I’ve a lot of experience in the NRL so I’d like to help some of the younger boys through and it would be great to win a Super League title,” he said. “I’ve played a couple of NRL finals, so that would be the ultimate achievement. I always wanted to finish my career in Super League.”
Merrin, meanwhile, is Leeds’s highest-profile Australian recruit since legendary Kangaroos hooker Danny Buderus in 2009 – a reminder of the quality Super League did once attract.
There had been speculation the prop, who won the 2010 Grand Final with St George-Illawarra and was a try-scorer in Australia’s Four Nations final success here two years ago, would remain Down Under.
But Rhinos have got their man and Merrin insisted: “Now I’ve some clarity on my future it is great to come to a new country and step out of my comfort zone.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how far we can take Leeds. It’s a chance to rip in, set a good standard and achieve some great goals.”
Elsewhere, Warrington Wolves have signed Canberra Raiders’ stand-off Blake Austin – like Hurrell, he has real box-office appeal – and South Sydney forward Jason Clark, who Sam Burgess rates as one of his greatest-ever team-mates.
Huddersfield Giants have secured exciting Fiji flier Akulia Uate and, even though St Helens lost Man of Steel Ben Barba, they have Lachlan Coote – the quality No 1 who was Linnett’s North Queensland team-mate – plus thrilling Fiji captain Kevin Naiqama and Cronulla back-row Joseph Paulo.