In the light of the sacking of the Rhinos’ most successful coach, I’ve decided to pick out my favourite victories of his time Leeds. These victories are wins that in my opinion show some of McDermott’s best work, either through tactical change or the story behind the win.
Leeds 26-24 Warrington (2011 play-off semi-final)
Simply one of the greatest wins in Leeds’ long successful history. At the time, the gimmicky ‘club call’ was in effect and Warrington had opted to pick the lowest ranked side left in Leeds, who finished fifth, instead of Wigan. In previous years that strategy worked but on this occasion it failed in such dramatic fashion. No one gave Leeds a chance but they were happy to give it go, at least from a fans’ perspective. However, the players had a different mindset – to win and shock everybody. They did just that, after now Rhinos half-back Richie Myler was deemed offside from a kick, and Sinfield slotted the resulting penalty over.
Leeds 23-10 Castleford (Challenge Cup Final 2014)
A first Challenge Cup win in 15 years for the Rhinos! A long wait after so many near misses in previous years, particularly 2005. What makes this win so special is the fact McDermott named his team in front of everyone, including Castleford coach Daryl Powell, at the first big presser of the week with a message saying ‘come and beat us’ – confidence and arrogance all rolled into one. Here’s a coach who knew his team were going to win and that mindset clearly threw Powell and his team off. Leeds on the day systematically dismantled the Tigers, slowly and painfully. Adding to some world class finishing by Ryan Hall meant that McDermott had played a tactical blinder.
Leeds 32-16 Saints (Grand Final 2011)
Essentially the season that set the tone for the McDermott era – be successful but not too pretty. During 2011 McDermott had ruffled a few feathers, not least those of Leeds legendary half Rob Burrow, who got told he was no longer a starter and had to settle for a bench spot. The news didn’t go down well for Burrow or the fans but McDermott knew what he was doing. That decision meant Burrow’s impact was massively felt in games rather than just slightly. It meant Burrow had a point to prove to his new coach. It meant a Grand Final victory historically from fifth place.
Following on from the Warrington win, Leeds faced Saints in the Grand Final, who finished third themselves. The game was in the balance when Burrow produced his first piece of magic, scoring from halfway by ducking under several players. Later on, the game seemed lost at 16-8 to Saints when Burrow took the game by the neck and produce another bit of superb play to set up Ryan Hall for a try and generally running Saints into the ground.
Leeds 22-20 Wigan (Grand Final 2015)
This game has to be up there, as could the season as a whole! In the build-up to this match Leeds had secured a last minute victory over Huddersfield for the league shield and also beaten Hull KR 50-0 at Wembley. What stood in their way now was a first victory over Wigan Warriors in a final. McDermott had said all week that his team were focused and going to win. Something he did even during the hardest of times. The man had complete confidence in his team to complete another piece of history. During the game, all the ingredients of the years under McDermott were nicely together; the underdog tag, focused mindset, Burrow sat on the bench, and the battle-hardened Peacock, Sinfield and Leuluai in their last game.
McDermott wanted to start quickly and they did, going in at half-time 16-6 up. However, after the break Wigan fought back and McDermott and his players were tested like never before. If nothing else McDermott always gave his players the belief they could win no matter what and to believe they were always the better team. With that mindset they snuck in for a score and held on for the club’s first treble.
Leeds 26-12 Manly Sea Eagles (2012 WCC)
McDermott’s only World Club Challenge win. It had to be on this list. Like all NRL sides when they visit England, Manly presented the biggest test the Rhinos would face all season. But Leeds had a plan – to use the atmosphere to help them gain a foothold in the game and battle through the harder periods in the hope they could push away for a win late on. That’s exactly what happened. McDermott knew Leeds would have to soak up a lot of pressure, like a boxer on the ropes, only to fire back.
Leeds did that all game. No better example than when Cherry-Evans looked to have played in the Manly right centre only for Ryan Hall to intercept and go the length of the field.