What does history tell us about Leeds Rhinos’ chance for success in 2024?

Leeds have been in the news for their spending. Gary Hetherington has gone for broke. After an indifferent season, some may say poor, Leeds needed to do something. First came in Mickael Goudemond to little fan fare. Then came Lachie Miller to some excitement but no hoopla.

The signing of Matt Frawley wasn’t greeted with a lot of enthusiasm but an acknowledgement it was step in the right direction. Paul Momirovski came in next, an NRL Grand Final winner got the temperature moving more.

Then Christmas came early not just one big present but two the equivalent of a bike and a Sony Walkman ( younger generations ask your parents). Of course I mean Andy Ackers and Brodie Croft.

Leeds had well and truly splashed the cash and Rhinos fans are excited with some already grabbing the trophy polish others are more circumspect. There is though rightly, room for optimism. But what does history tell us?

The older generation may look to 1987. Leeds had only just stayed up on points difference. The Leeds board decided that it would never happen again, and Alf Davies the CEO went out and splashed the cash.

Leeds broke the world record twice in quick succession; first came Lee Crooks then Gary Schofield both from Hull FC. Also some high profile Australians made the trip to Headingley such Peter Tonks and the sadly missed Peter Jackson. Leeds also raided rugby union and in came Mark Brook Cowden from the All Blacks.

There was a step in the right direction a 5th place finish and an appearance in the Regal Trophy missing out by a point to Saints. Leeds continued to spend the cash over the next 8 seasons. A galaxy of stars came in Phil Ford, Paul Dixon , John Bentley Bobby Goulding, Craig Inness, Andy Gregory, Kevin Iro and topped off with the world record signing of arguably the greatest British player Ellery Hanley.

The results got closer but still the major trophies alluded them. Three runner up positions in the league, twice losing finalists in the Challenge Cup and a few other final appearances but sadly for Leeds fans no trophies other than the Yorkshire Cup which was indeed celebrated but not considered a major trophy.

Exacerbating matters, the club’s relentless pursuit of trophies nearly resulted in bankruptcy and the real danger of losing Headingley which would have devastated Leeds fans everywhere. So, why did it not work?

Well the well known the old adage that you can’t buy success and that certainly comes to mind although if you have a Nation behind you, it seems that you can, I’m looking at you Manchester City!

Some of the players were a success; Schoey became a legend, Hanley showed he was the best and Inness stepped up from rugby union. Others did step up but lacked consistency. Some were past their sell by date such as Gregory and Andy Goodway.

The culture was probably never right and they were also up against the once in a life time juggernaut of a Wigan team and maybe not for them would have had some trophies particularly in 94 and 95.

There was also no real youth development and only a few came through such as Roy Powell and Paul Medley and later Graham Holroyd and Francis Cummins but it was never sustained. Also some players were missed including Jason Robinson, who was never was at Leeds, but was desperate to play for them as a local lad turned away by the club.

The signings when they came were exciting, and I haven’t even touched on the World Rugby Union player of the year John Gallagher, but there was probably never really a well thought out plan.

Leeds had gone for broke and became broke. The writing was on the wall and disaster loomed.
Then along came the Leeds’ saviours Gary Hetherington and Paul Caddick.

Money was spent including the high profile signing of Iestyn Harris but more importantly the young players were developed and given a chance. There was success fairly quickly the challenge cup in 1999.

Slowly but surely a team was created including signings such as Furner, Peacock, Marcus Bai and Ali but more importantly the investment in youth paid off with the golden generation of Sinny, Robbie , Danny and many others.

The result was trophies 8 Grand Final wins, 3 Challenge Cups, 3 World Club Challenges and 3 League Leaders’ Shields. Success the 1987 fans would never have dreamt of.

So what does this tell us about the modern day Rhinos? Well spending cash doesn’t guarantee success.
You need a plan, and you need a good youth system. So, onto the Rhinos’ chance of success: it does look like there is a plan this time and not just blind spending. The players bought were the ones needed and should gel. In fact some already have history together such as Ackers and Croft.

The youth system looks like it is delivering with examples like Newman Cameron Smith, Handley, Oledski and and Holroyd. Then there is potential of players like Morgan Gannon, Max Simpson, Jack Sinfield and others.

So will Leeds be successful yet again? Who knows, there are many factors and you need some luck, but they have the right ingredients there.

In 2003, I predicted Leeds would win the Grand Final in two years’ time and I was one year out. It felt like something special was happening from the outside and it did. This time I am keeping my powder dry but there is definitely hope for the Leeds fans out there.