Rating each side’s Super League experience: Leeds Rhinos

Leeds Rhinos managed to overcome early financial struggles to become the most successful side in the history of the Super League.

Prior to the first season, they announced former Wigan player Dean Bell as their new Head Coach. He replaced Doug Laughton in the role.

They struggled in the first year, finishing third from bottom. It also emerged that Leeds C F & A Co Ltd, the company that owned Headingley and Leeds Rhinos, were struggling as well. They were bailed out by Gary Hetherington, former owner of Sheffield Eagles, and Paul Caddick.

Leeds also adopted the name Leeds Rhinos in 1997, to go with a new Head Coach in Graham Murray, after Bell was moved into the Academy role.

Hetherington and Caddick then produced a statement signing with the addition of Iestyn Harris from Warrington for £350,000.

Murray got Leeds performing further up the table, as they reached the first ever Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford. However, they were beaten by Wigan. They were helped on the way by Harris, who was voted that season’s Man of Steel.

That proved to be a starting block, as a year later, they won the Challenge Cup, beating London at what would be the final Challenge Cup Final at the old Wembley.

Daryl Powell led Leeds following his retirement, and brought through a Golden Generation of players. Credit: Richard Long/News Images

Former player Daryl Powell then took up the coaching reigns following his retirement from playing in 2001.

During his tenure, the Rhinos were building a team full of academy raised players. The likes of Kevin Sinfield, Rob Burrow, Danny McGuire and Matt Diskin to name a few, were given their debuts under Powell.

Despite the fact they were top of the league, in 2003, it was announced Powell would be getting replaced by the Australian Tony Smith, who had led Huddersfield to a record-breaking promotion season in the Championship and back to the Super League.

The Smith era

Tony Smith led Leeds to their first League titles in 30 years. Credit: News Images

That risk paid off, as Leeds won their first league title in over 30 years, with victory over West Yorkshire rivals Bradford Bulls at Old Trafford. Diskin was given the Harry Sunderland Trophy for Man of the Match.

They backed that up by defeating Canterbury Bulldogs in the World Club Challenge at the start of the 2005 season.

In 2007, they then became the first side to beat St Helens in a Grand Final, and by a record margin, as they won 33-6 at Old Trafford. Burrow was awarded the Harry Sunderland Trophy.

This proved to be the final game for Smith, as he eventually took the Great Britain job.

Record-breakers

The Rhinos opted for former New Zealand Coach Brian McLennan as Smith’s successor. He won two Grand Finals in a row, both against the Saints. It was the first time the club had won back-to-back titles. Leeds were also the first side in the Super League era to win three straight titles.

In 2008, Lee Smith proved to be the difference, and was given the Harry Sunderland Trophy. Sinfield won it a year later.

During that time, they won the World Club Challenge for the second time, as they beat Melbourne Storm at Elland Road.

Brian McDermott led Leeds to the treble, two other league titles and a Challenge Cup. Credit: News Images

McLennan then left the club in 2010, and the Head Coach’s role was given to Brian McDermott, who had been Head Coach of Harlequins.

In his first season, it had looked like they could miss out on the playoffs all together. But they ended up making history, as they became the first side to win it from fifth. They beat St Helens for the third time in the Grand Final, that was five straight Grand Final defeats for the Saints and a fourth title in five years for Leeds.

That was thanks to a brilliant performance from Burrow, scoring a try and assisting for Ryan Hall in an 32-16 victory. He won the Harry Sunderland Trophy that year, becoming the first player to win the Man of the Match award twice in the Grand Final era.

They went back-to-back again in 2012, as they did it from fifth again. This time they beat Warrington Wolves, who were playing in their first Super League Grand Final.

The Rhinos then ended their wait for a Challenge Cup in 2014, after beating West Yorkshire rivals Castleford Tigers in their first victory at the new Wembley Stadium.

The holy grail

That set the foundations for a special season in 2015, when they became the third side to win the Treble. Five tries in the final from Tom Briscoe won the Challenge Cup, they then won the League Leaders Shield with a last second Ryan Hall try at Huddersfield, before they then edged past Wigan to win the Super League Grand Final.

That season also saw their second Man of Steel winner, as fullback Zak Hardaker scooped the prize.

It became the perfect way to send out club legends Sinfield, Kylie Leuluai and Jamie Peacock, who were leaving the club. Sinfield tried his hand at rugby union while Leuluai and Peacock retired. Peacock became only the second player to win the treble with two different clubs.

2016 became a transitional season, as Leeds looked to move on and build on that season. They finished outside the top eight for the first time since 1996. Although, they did manage to secure their Super League status in the Middle 8s.

That season was then written off as a blip, as Leeds got back up the table in 2017. They finished second behind the runaway leaders Castleford, bolstered by their former fullback Hardaker.

They would meet the Tigers at Old Trafford, who had beaten them 66-10 earlier in the season. But the Rhinos managed to pull off an incredible victory. Thanks to a brilliant performance from the outgoing McGuire. They won 24-6.

Danny McGuire left Leeds after a Harry Sunderland Trophy winning performance against Castleford. Credit: News Images

That was the perfect way to send out McGuire, who was joining Hull KR and that was also Burrow’s last game as he retired.

Since then, it has been somewhat of a struggle. McDermott would lose his job in 2018 after another season of struggle. He was replaced on an interim basis by Sinfield.

Former player David Furner had taken over for the 2019 season. He had been the assistant at NRL side South Sydney Rabbitohs.

He only won five out of 16 games in charge, and was sacked in May. Richard Agar took over temporarily and then he got the job permanently.

They started 2020 brightly, and were third at the time of suspension, with two games in hand over Wigan and Castleford above them.

The Future

Richard Agar will be aiming to get Leeds into the top five. Credit: Craig Milner/News Images

Agar has started to bring through some new talent. Jack Walker, Harry Newman, Cameron Smith, Luke Briscoe and Alex Sutcliffe have all been given a chance to prove themselves. With Walker and Newman establishing themselves as regular first-teamers.

Combined with the proven talent of Konrad Hurrell and Luke Gale, it could be an exciting time for the Rhinos once more.

Leeds have always had a reputation for bringing through young players. That hasn’t changed, despite any struggles they have had.

Rating

10/10- the masters of turning it on when it matters. It’s not always been smooth sailing for them, but they always seem to make their presence known on a season, one way or the other. Even now, it feels like they are a sleeping giant.

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