Leeds Rhinos: Where has it all gone wrong?

Leeds Rhinos

The massacre against Castleford was seemingly the nail in the coffin for a Rhinos side that up until last season looked brilliant. This showed in the trophy cabinet, winning seven trophies under Coach Brian McDermott’s leadership. However, there’s been indicators that the team have been struggling long before last season – but where did it all really go wrong?

Many fans and neutrals blamed last season’s poor season on the flood that left them without a training ground and the fact the leadership trio of Kevin Sinfield, Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai hadn’t been replaced. However, the problems came as far back as 2014.

In 2014 the Leeds squad main objective was to finally win the Challenge Cup, with the tag line “mission complete” once they’d achieved this with a 23-10 victory over Castleford – the side ironically that are now the team to beat. They made no secret of their joy after winning the trophy and ending the 15 years of hurt since their record win over London Broncos in 1999. But straight after that, the Rhinos lost their final six games, going from potential treble winners to all too happy with filling that final piece of the jigsaw.

Unfortunately, with that win the squad was never upgraded to gradually phrase out those three players mentioned above, who at this time were in their final year of their careers. The short term still looked good for the Rhinos, but were they forgetting about the future?

Entering 2015 and, like the season before, the squad had a big objective – to win the treble. The whole squad looked determined, especially Zak Hardaker – now with Castleford – who would go on to win the Steve Prescott Man of Steel. They were labelled unbeatable by some, despite just crawling over the finish line after their emphatic Challenge Cup win over Hull KR at Wembley. They in fact lost nine games that year, so obvious cracks remained, often when the squad players were called upon the Rhinos looked vulnerable.

So, the last two seasons mentioned Leeds completed objectives. What this meant was the management thought everything was okay and despite the surprise signing of Brett Ferres, the Rhinos were very light and lacked the experience they once had. Cue an act of God to really compile their problems. And what we’ve got in 2016 is a team quick to point the finger at no proper training facility, even though the likes of Castleford and Wakefield – who finished above Leeds in 2016 both have less to work with on that front. In a season to forget, the defending champions failed to make the play-offs as they were left to fight for their Super League status in the qualifiers. For the players and fans this was an embarrassing situation to be in, the club had gone from playing in major finals to been involved in a relegation battle in less than 12 months.

Fast forward to the present time and unlike 2014 and 2015, Leeds didn’t come close to completing any season objectives but still didn’t improve their squad. The blindness in not replacing the ‘holy trio’ with 1000+ appearances for Leeds between them, and for Peacock and Sinfield experience at captaining their country, was absolutely criminal. What we’re seeing now is a squad still unprepared and led by Brian McDermott, a man who doesn’t like to use his youth or squad depth even if he really has to. On many occasions McDermott has used only three subs and left the likes of the winner of the Championship’s Young Player of the Year in 2015 and 2016, Jordan Baldwinson kicking dust on the sidelines, despite him recently praising Baldwinson’s progression.

So when Leeds rocked up to The Jungle to face a Tigers side sporting many past Rhinos players, all of which are playing miles better than they were at Leeds, it’s no surprise in the score-line. Forget the injuries, or whatever the excuse is this year for McDermott and his players. The 17 players that took the field that night should have done a lot better, but it must be considered that McDermott had placed six players in that team that had played for either Featherstone or Bradford the previous Sunday. They were basically lambs to slaughter, the likes of Baldwinson, Lilley and Walters playing despite knowing their coach clearly doesn’t trusting them enough to give them a chance before injuries strike. And I’m not talking about a chance they should have had this season. I’m talking about the chances they should have had last season, especially in Baldwinson’s case.

The scary thing for Leeds now is that with McGuire, 34, Burrow, 34 and Jones-Buchanan, 35, they have even more experience leaving with no sight of the youth being ready enough to take over, all because the management were to blind to see faults as far back as 2014.

McDermott said after the defeat that Leeds “weren’t far off”, but when you lose 66-10 with a squad at least five of which you don’t trust enough to play regularly, then you couldn’t be any further off. It’s clear from my perspective and many other fans that Sinfield and Peacock, in particular, had far greater input into the team than what is expected; as now without them the Rhinos look horribly thin of squad quality, void of ideas in attack and lacking any plan B approaches when times get hard.

I don’t think I’m the only one to cast this level of doom and gloom over the Rhinos, but their own Head Coach doesn’t trust the future of the club enough to take it forward and he’s evidently out of ideas. All of that isn’t an observation from one match but something evident in 2014, but blindness and loyalty to players is no longer good enough which has meant Leeds are at best another five or so years from trophy glory again.

  • Good article I agree with everything that the treehas been said. I have said as much in an email to Gary Hetherington himself but he seems very unable to see the wood for the trees . Unfortunately I can’t see an end to it because they are to focused on stands and facilities.

  • Jake

    So what exactly are you suggesting here? That Leeds should have dropped some of the high quality experienced players that helped win the treble in 2015? That year was the culmination of the efforts of a side that for the most part had come through the youth system together and been playing alongside one another for 15+ years. You say that players such as Sinfield and Peacock had ‘much greater input into the team than expected’. So top level experienced internationals, arguably the best players to have ever played for the club should have no more influence than the next player? Really? You also make the point that McDermott apparently doesn’t trust youth. You cite Josh Walters as an example of this and yet he scored the winning try in the 2015 Grand Final. Albeit he may not have played had Stevie Ward been fit, but Ward himself is only a year older than Walters. If you remember Leeds had a very poor spell prior to 2003 when the great side of the last fifteen years began to show its potential, in fact they were almost relegated on one occasion. But that period saw the emergence of the likes of Sinfield, Jones-Buchanan, Burrow, McGuire etc. They were a young team, that learned and improved greatly, like the young side Leeds have now will. Five years away from a trophy? Fine. I’d rather Leeds sustainably built another side to last ten years together than continually see their best players poached by the NRL or union like Wigan. Leeds fans need some patience and some faith. This side will get better and has some great youngsters like Jordan Lilley and Ashton Golding, even Stevie Ward is only 23. 2003 to 2015 has spoiled us and chasing quick success and throwing money at poor results rather than letting young players develop and learn from results like that against Castleford, would be exactly the short sightedness you wrongly accuse McDermott etc of in your article. MOT

    • Mark Bridgman

      Do you really believe the things you are saying? The team we had that won everything was down to coaches trusting in upcoming players. Something McDermott does not do. McDermott is, and has never been, a good enough coach for Leeds. We knew that the experience was leaving and did nothing to combat that. Maguire is nowhere near captain quality. He is as bad as Brough for whinging at the ref, one of the reasons huddersfield have eleven won anything. You talk about Wigan letting all their players go yet that shows just how much they trust their youth. And it is proven to work. Who won the grand final last year?

      • Jake

        Why would I have put them out there to be debated if I didn’t? If McDermott was never good enough, then why has he won three grand finals, a world club challenge, a league leaders shield and two challenge cups? Why was he the first Leeds coach to win the challenge cup since 1999? So now you’re saying that we should have signed more experienced players, trust in youth? What exactly would you have done to combat that experience leaving? Play youth players in some league games and risk the chance of the clubs first ever treble? I agree Mcguire’s not the best captain, but who else would you suggest? Maybe JJB? Since 2004 Leeds have won more than twice as many grand finals as Wigan, so who’s approach has been better for long term success? Wigan will never build a side like the Leeds side of Sinfield etc because two or three good seasons and players generally leave for more money elsewhere.

        • Mark Bridgman

          I didn’t think there was a person out there still holding onto those trophies that ‘McDermott won’. It’s pretty clear to everyone now, as it has been to some of us for years that it wasn’t McDermott doing the coaching. He was there to do the talking after a game and that’s about it. Wigan have a team that consistently challenge for silverware and while they may not always win trophies, they are not at risk of falling into a slump such as ours that may very well lead to relegtion. For me, players like Keinhorst have been missing out on deserved places for too long. He could be leading our team now if he had been given more chances in the past. He has always shown his commitment and quality. A far more consistent player than Watkins.

          • Jake

            Do you seriously think a club would keep someone around to attend press conferences and pretend to be a head coach? Of course the likes of Sinfield and Peacock will have had a big influence. But to suggest that McDermott had nothing to do with the success we’ve had is a ridiculous position to take. So you’d rather we let our best players go on a consistent basis and hadn’t had the success of the last ten or so years? Taking Wigan’s approach we wouldn’t have kept that great side together. I agree that Keinhorst is a quality player, but you’d seriously have played him ahead of Watkins in 2015? I think Watkins was very poor last season, Keinhorst was far better and deservedly player of the season. But I don’t remember anyone calling for Watkins to be dropped in 2015 when he scored 18 tries.

          • Mark Bridgman

            Yes. I honestly think Hetherington would. He really is that stubborn. And yes I see your point t about letting players go like Wigan. We may not have had as successful a time, however I think we are going to truly struggle to stay in superleague this year without change and I’d take constant top 4 over relegation battles any day. But I think you are overstating our achievements in 2015. The league was poor. Not as poor as last year, but even so I think Watkins was average. I really would have had Keinhorst ahead of him from halfway through 2014. His consistency, determination and defence are all way ahead of Watkins. As is his ability to provide for his winger. He is a real team player.

          • Jake

            Stubborn he may be, but we were going nowhere as a club before he took over and I still trust his judgement. He’s got a lot more right than wrong. His comments today suggest the senior players and the coaching staff need to start upping their game. But like McDermott or not, we were successful with him in charge up until last season. I don’t think we’re in any danger of going down, the quality isn’t there in the championship, outside of Hull KR. 2015 was the clubs first and only treble and only the second of the summer era. I don’t think the league was any harder back when Saints won the treble. It’s the greatest possible domestic achievement, in a salary capped sport I don’t think you can overstate that. Last season and this I completely agree about Keinhorst. But when we had a winning side, why change it?

          • Mark Bridgman

            There has been three treble wins. Bradford won the treble before saints. Look where they are due to poor management and not planning for the future. 2006 was the second worst SL season there has been. Last year being the worst. We certainly wouldn’t be where we are without him but his comments suggest even he is Second guessing his own ability to lead the club forward. I hope I am wrong, I really do. But I don’t see us doing anything but fight for survival until McDermott has gone and some leadership has been brought in. Two things GH says are unlikely to happen.

          • Jake

            Of course they did! Poor financial management on the part of Bradford’s board though, something that won’t happen at Leeds. Under the current ownership at least. By what metric do you define a bad season of super league? Hull doing well? We could bring in whatever coach we wanted right now, it’s going to be a tough period while the younger generation come through and the likes of Burrow, McGuire and JJB retire and move on.

          • Mark Bridgman

            I have been watching RL for 25 years. I know a poor season when I see one. Granted, Hull do seem to do well in poor seasons so maybe that is an indication of the years quality. Ha. Maguire and JJB could both have retired a season ago and not been missed. Bit then JJB went on to have a good year last year. Which shows they are too hit and miss. Burrow is the one of those three we will truly miss.

          • Jake

            I was joking about Hull, probably says more about them than anything else! McGuire hardly played last season, but Sutcliffe didn’t convince as a stand off at all. He’s so frustrating to watch when he has games where he refuses to pass the ball and his kicking game is very inconsistent. We don’t use Burrow as well as we could, players need to make more runs to give him options when he takes it across the line, too often he looks for a pass and no ones made a run for him. Just out of interest, who would you look at in terms of bringing players in?

          • Mark Bridgman

            Yes I agree with you there. I do not know. A lot has been made of widdop making it known he wouldn’t mind playing in SL and as such a lot of noise about him coming to leeds has been made. I do t K ow if he really is as good as some seem to think he is, but he does have great organisational play. Kind of like Sinfield. But then that is what Lilley is best at so maybe him and widdop together with Lilley learning from his experience would be good. I would move to sutty to loose forward. Lilley at 6, mags 7 and Burrow interchange hooker with Parcell.

          • Jake

            Would solve both the kicking for position and goal kicking problems we have right now if we could get him. Am I right in thinking McGuire and Burrow are both out of contract end of the season, or is it just McGuire? That would improve our attack, at least the ball would make it to the centers past Sutcliffe!

          • Mark Bridgman

            I think they both are but honestly not 100% certain. It would hopefully. Our kicking in all departments is a major concern and probably our biggest liability right now.