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“It’s ludicrous” – Jon Wilkin explains why Leeds Rhinos continue to struggle

Leeds Rhinos

Leeds Rhinos are the creators of their own downfall according to Jon Wilkin with the Sky Sports pundit slamming the side’s poor defensive gameplan, something that was on show again as they were hammered by St Helens 40-10.

The heavy defeat marked the second wide scoreline in a row with Rohan Smith’s side having been nilled in Perpignan last time out against Catalans Dragons.

It also represented the fourth loss in the last six games with the only two wins coming against 12th and 11th-placed London Broncos and Hull FC. It’s fair to say alarm bells are ringing at Headingley with growing calls for Rohan Smith to depart his post, those calls echoed by a former Super League match official too.

Richard Silverwood has pleaded with Gary Hetherington for him to call time on Rohan Smith’s tenure at the club as he compared him to Manchester United coach Erik Ten Hag, claiming both men weren’t deserving of roles at such historic clubs.

As for Wilkin though, he was actually speaking pre-game about Leeds Rhinos’ issues and in hindsight, it was as if he had a crystal ball with his analysis and the actual performance being eerily similar.

Leeds Rhinos slammed for being too passive

Leeds Rhinos players clap

Credit: Imago Images

Speaking pre-match on Sky Sports, he lamented the Rhinos’ “passive” defensive style, arguing: “It’s just an incredibly passive way to defend. They bend but they don’t break. They’re obsessed with line breaks. The optics of it aren’t shocking, but it’s passive.

“The first contact is poor. It’s everybody backing off. It’s not dictating the pace or the intensity of the game to your opposition and that allows teams just to flood through.”

He even suggested that it’s a Rohan Smith game plan, asserting that it happens “too consistently, for it not to be spoken” about as their intended system.

“They’re a soft defensive team and they’ve got soft individuals who don’t want to defend, so the answer is for me that collectively they’re being told to defend like that.

“It’s so difficult to win games and score points when you’re consistently bogged down in your own half. We talk about them kicking crossfield in their own twenty but it’s because they’re bogged down in their own twenty.”

What do the stats say about the Rhinos’ defence?

Leeds Rhinos

Credit: Imago Images

Wilkin would then relay stats to convey his argument, explaining that Leeds Rhinos are trending towards 1,900 run metres conceded which was something the former St Helens captain argued was almost a surefire sign that a team would lose.

“The simple thing is that if you concede 1900 running metres in a game you’re going to lose and that’s played out by Hull FC, Castleford and London who we can see consistently do that. Why are Leeds flirting with that? Because statistically you just do not win rugby games.

“You can look at completion rate, errors, all of these stats, over the last two years the one stat that matters is the number of running metres you concede and the way Leeds defend. It’s ludicrous because it just invites them into a situation where they’re unlikely to win games.

“If they want to do that consistently, they’re just putting themselves in a position where they’re going to get busted and they’re going to get beat by a good team.”

As it happened, Leeds Rhinos conceded 1,832 run metres last night on their way to the heavy defeat whilst also allowing a whopping 37 play the balls in their own 20 metres, six times more than they managed in Saints territory.

Jon Wilkin

Credit: Imago Images

Those stats just highlight one of Wilkin’s pre-game comments: “They’re being told ‘Don’t concede line breaks because line breaks mean point’, well I’m telling them that conceding metres means losing games.”

Because of that style, their passive defence and high number of sets on their own line turned to fatigue with Leeds having more than double the number of missed tackles (45 to 20) and it led to panic in an attack which saw a completion rate of just 68% compared to St Helens’ clinical 96%.

Simply put, Leeds Rhinos need a new defensive system if they’re to stand any chance of making the playoffs as their last six games have proven that they cannot compete unless they are playing a bottom-two team.

That’s what makes next week’s clash at Headingley against third-bottom Castleford Tigers so intriguing.

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