The current situation at Leeds isn’t a fluke, with many factors contributing to the Rhinos’ downfall in 2018.
This situation cannot be compared or blamed on a straightforward excuse such as in 2016 when Leeds had their training ground ruined by flood water and three legends retiring all at once. This situation is much deeper than that, and it’s time to dig out the reasons why.
To find the source of the plight you could go as far back as the end of the 2014 season where Leeds lost their six remaining games after their historic Challenge Cup win. The fans and club weren’t all that bothered by the rapid decline in motivation to push on to make the very most of that season as Leeds had finally ended their 15-year wait for the Challenge Cup, despite being in pole position for the league shield and therefore in with a great chance of a Grand Final shot as well, indicated by having the best defence even after six straight losses. The management/fans saw it as a very successful season and ignored the warning signs.
Roll up 2015. Sinfield, Peacock and Leuluai were retiring and so the aim was simply to do what had never been done before at Leeds and complete a historic treble, including winning the Challenge Cup back to back when it took the club 15 years to win it just once showed just the sort of task facing the players. As we all know they completed the treble and so this season shouldn’t surely be a part of the jigsaw puzzle of plight they find themselves in? Wrong.
What I find interesting is the comments made around the time by then coach Brian McDermott about how the team didn’t need much coaching after a certain time of season and generally don’t most seasons as they know the task at hand and don’t need motivating, which is all very true but looking at that those comments a little deeper and fast forward to 2018 and we begin to see the problem.
See, the current season is followed by 2016 and 2017, where management thought the squad was good enough and could cope with losing three legends in 2016 and a further two in 2017 without really replacing them. Trusting the senior players to find another gear as well as promoting youth from their famous academy, all whilst we remember that McDermott said the players didn’t need much coaching at certain points in the season. Realising that both 2015 and 2017 were very player led seasons in as much as goals set for the seasons as the legends plotted their successful fairy tale endings. Backed up by comments made by Leeds legend Danny McGuire once McDermott was sacked earlier this season that it’s a very player-led environment at Leeds.
With that being said it’s little wonder that the little things started to slip as the man meant to make sure they kept the highest standards let the players roam free too much, indicated by Ryan Hall’s interview in The Sun paper about how when Sinfield was appointed he noticed something wasn’t right straightaway just by the fact the players hadn’t cleaned up after themselves. Then of course you can factor in the excuses of 2016 to 2018 to worsen the situation with a big injury list and instead of flooding it’s the self-inflicted building of new stands that rightly had to happen to take the club forward properly.
So the fact the management saw the squad as in good shape at the start of the season as the squad just won the Grand Final is an indication of having too much trust in a player led system. The fact is they won the big trophy but they didn’t deserve to. They were second best to Castleford by some distance and won the big game in a one-off performance to see off McGuire and Burrow in the best possible fashion, in a player led goal to achieve something great.
I’m not surprised by the current plight as it’s just an indication that recruitment hasn’t been enough to mend the squad of its legendary missing pieces; and the management blindly backed the squad without much investment to do it all again despite no player led motivation to truly achieve in 2018. I don’t mean they didn’t want to win the trophies this season but there’s been no extra drive by emotional factors such as players retiring or creating history, to plug the gap of lack of structure when it came to the business end of year.
The current mess can be summed up by Sinfield when he said “the players have forgotten what it means to play for Leeds Rhinos”. Something that has slowly taken affect since 2014 because of a lack of structure, quality recruitment and player motivation. Hopefully all is slowly being mended by Sinfield with the appointment of Dave Furner from 2019 as head coach, bringing a stronger coaching structure than before.