Leeds Rhinos are set to secure a surprise deal for Blake Austin for the 2022 season.
Rugby League Live understands the Rhinos are on the cusp of securing the Warrington Wolves star on a short-term deal that will further enhance their squad for next season.
It will be their third major signing, with the club already poaching St Helens back-rower James Bentley and Huddersfield Giants halfback Aidan Sezer for next year.
Austin, who is on a marquee contract with the Wolves, will, like Sezer, be taking a substantial pay cut to make his way to Headingley next season. The 30-year-old’s time at Warrington has been drawing to a conclusion since being offered to clubs just months into the season.
George Williams’ arrival was the final nail in the coffin of Austin’s future prospects at the club and, despite interest from various clubs in both Super League and the NRL, it’s Leeds who look set to finalise a deal for the former Canberra Raiders halfback.
Hull KR are also thought to have shown interest some months ago but their interest cooled.
Sources at Headingley insist a deal for Austin has no implications on the future of Luke Gale and that the deal is for next season, despite some rumours he could sign for the remainder of the year. Leeds are currently using all of their quota spots.
Instead, Austin is set to be brought in to play a utility role. Austin memorably played on the wing during the ill-fated Great Britain tour but there is a feeling at the club that Austin could play in a variety of positions where they could get the best out of his running abilities.
The Rhinos turned their attention to Austin after finalising a deal for Sezer. With salary cap space not set to be an issue next year, Leeds have made their move in a deal that would bring in a player of undoubted talent, while keeping their options open recruitment wise heading into 2023.
As for Gale, it’s thought that he remains a key part of Richard Agar’s plans next year despite recently being stripped of the captaincy.
Gale has another year left to run on his contract and while the recent drama has left question marks over his future, sources insist there are no plans to move Gale on before his contract expires.
What Austin’s arrival would confirm is that one of the club’s existing overseas players will be moving on. Clubs are only allowed seven non-federation trained players and Austin would become the club’s eighth, following the arrival of Sezer. Konrad Hurrell, Rhyse Martin and King Vuniyayawa are all off-contract at the end of the season.
Austin is in his third season at Warrington after his move from Canberra Raiders in 2019.
He made 122 NRL appearances before heading to Super League and has scored almost a try every other game since moving to England.