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Leeds Rhinos: 5 leading candidates to be new head coach

Leeds Rhinos announced earlier today that they would part company with Head Coach, Rohan Smith. Leeds started the season with an expectation that they would challenge for major honours in Super League, having invested heavily in the playing squad over the close season. 

Leeds finished the 2023 season in eighth place, in a season which was marked by turmoil both on and off the field. Discontent among the fan base first surfaced after the side’s 61-0 demolition away against the Catalans Dragons at the end of last season.

However, the arrival of big names such as Brodie Croft, Andy Ackers, Matt Frawley and Paul Momirovski gave fans hope of better things to come. Unfortunately for Smith, results have not followed on the pitch and the Rhinos’ humiliation away at Hull FC was the final straw for the club’s hierarchy.

With the news that Leeds will now begin the search for their fifth permanent head coach since 2018, we assess the runners and riders for the hot seat at AMT Headingley.

Quiz: Can you name all these ex-Leeds Rhinos players?

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Paul Rowley

Salford Red Devils coach Paul Rowley speaks to Sky Sports pundit and former Leeds Rhinos player Jamie Jones-Buchanan

Credit: Imago Images

They say all roads lead to Rome, however, in the case of the Leeds Rhinos, all roads currently seem to lead down the M62 to Salford. As soon as Ian Blease was confirmed as the new Sporting Director of the club, speculation began to mount that Blease would soon appoint Paul Rowley as the Head Coach.

Rowley moved to distance himself from the links ahead of the weekend’s fixtures, stating that he was not willing to answer hypothetical questions. But the question may soon become very real, following Smith’s departure.

Rowley’s near move to Hull FC earlier in the season showed that the Salford Red Devils are open to negotiate if the offer to release Rowley from his contract is the right one. Rowley knows a number of players within the Leeds squad and obviously has a good working relationship with Blease.

Given his track record of transforming under-performing sides, Rowley seems like a perfect candidate for the Leeds job.

Brad Arthur

Credit: Imago Images

Brad Arthur is a big name in Australian Rugby League and, until easlier this seaso, had a long association with the Parramatta Eeels. Arthur left the Eels earlier this season, with the side under-performing in the NRL. However, this does not tell the full story of his time there.

Having taken over the club on a permanent basis in 2014, Arthur guided the club to four NRL semi-finals and one Grand Final during his time in charge. The eels fell agonisingly short of lifting the trophy in 2022, losing 28-12 against the Penrith Panthers in the season’s showpiece game.

Despite difficulties with the salary cap early in his spell at the Eels, he maintained a 52% win rate during his time at the club, reaching a 68% win rate in 68%.

If Leeds decide now is the time to pursue a big name coach from Australia in an attempt to turn the ship around, Arthur could be the perfect candidate.

Justin Holbrook

Credit: Imago Images

There are few candidates on the market who can combine an excellent track record in Super League with experience of coaching in the NRL. Former St Helens coach, Justin Holbrook, is one such candidate.

Holbrook spent three seasons with the Saints, between 2017 and 2019, and won 80% of his games in charge of the club. He came to the club when they were in a period of turmoil, having parted company with Keiron Cunningham following a string of poor results.

Holbrook steadied the ship at Saints and set them on course for the golden age of success they would experience in recent years. He won the first of four consecutive Grand Finals the club would win in 2019, before leaving the club to join the Gold Coast Titans.

Holbrook steered Gold Coast into their first finals appearance since 2016 in the 2021 season, where they were eliminated in an agonising defeat against the Sydney Roosters.

He left the club the following season and has been working as the Head Coach of the Papua New Guinea national team since August 2023. With his track record of success on both sides of the world, Holbrook could be the perfect candidate for Leeds.

Danny McGuire

Leeds Rhinos

Credit: Imago Images

This would be an appointment for the romantics out there. That said, there would be a logic to appointing McGuire, along with the sentiment. McGuire is one of Leeds’ most decorated players, having been a crucial part in their success between 2004 and 2017.

That said, McGuire has also been quietly serving a solid apprenticeship as a Head Coach. He worked under Tony Smith at Hull KR, taking interim charge of the club when Smith departed. He then spent time working with Willie Peters when he joined the Robins.

McGuire left KR to join Castleford Tigers as assistant to Craig Lingard. He was considered for the top job, but stated he wanted to gain more experience before taking over.

Could a return to Leeds now be on the cards? Possibly. It may be a sensible to move to give McGuire the job on an interim basis, with a view to working as the assistant of the next permanent head coach, in a similar arrangement which St Helens used with Paul Wellens and Kristian Woolf.

It feels more likely that McGuire could be the next, next coach of the Rhinos. However, there is a possibility that he returns to the club where it all began.

Brian McDermott

Credit: Imago Images

If feels strange to write that the most successful Head Coach in Leeds’ Super League could leave a mixed legacy at the club. But where Brian McDermott is concerned, it does not feel to be an unfair assessment. He led the club through a glittering period of success, inlcluding a treble win in 2015.

But there is a feeling among Rhinos fans that McDermott also left scorched earth behind him. That he burned every last drop of energy that the Golden Generation had, leaving behind no foundations for the club to build on. This may be true, given the struggles the club has seen since his departure.

So what has changed where McDermott is concerned? One thing which will be different is the recruitment. McDermott’s track record of recruiting players was patchy at best, however, he would not have to work under the leadership of Blease. He has also grown and matured as a coach, having spent time working as an assistant in the NRL.

They say you should never go back. But the Rhinos could be tempted to have one last fling with McDermott. After all, they were the best times in the club’s recent past.

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