Five things that have gone wrong for Leeds Rhinos this season

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Leeds Rhinos’ fall from grace has been the biggest single talking point of the 2016 First Utility Super League campaign.

Here are five factors that might explain how the reigning champions and treble winners - now rock bottom of the league - can sink so low, so fast.

PASSING OF THE OLD GUARD

Much was made at the time of the departure of iconic club captain Kevin Sinfield, to (briefly, as it turned out) try his hand at rugby union, and the retirement of front-row forwards Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai following Leeds’ Grand Final triumph last October but it is clear they have been missed far more than anybody could have truly envisaged.

All three were world-class players in their own right, who made massive contributions to the Rhinos over the years but they also provided invaluable leadership on the pitch and priceless assistance to coach Brian McDermott off it.

POOR RECRUITMENT

The club failed to adequately replace experienced hooker Paul Aiton, who opted to join Super League rivals Catalans Dragons, with new recruit Beau Falloon making little impression with his limited opportunities, while run-of-the-mill Australian prop Keith Galloway faced a thankless task trying to fill the boots of Peacock and Leuluai.

The eve-of-season signing of England second-rower Brett Ferres was an unexpected bonus but Leeds were clearly happy to rely on the crop of youngsters emerging through the ranks and, despite the promise demonstrated by half-back Jordan Lilley, they have largely failed to deliver.

INJURIES AND LOSS OF FORM

The Rhinos have undoubtedly been affected more seriously than any other club by the unusual plethora of injuries to have gripped Super League in 2016.

Their wretched luck began even before the season began with England prospect Stevie Ward sidelined with major knee surgery while new captain Danny McGuire was injured in the opening game and has rarely been fit since.

England wingers Ryan Hall and Tom Briscoe have missed more games than they have played and, with experienced forwards Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Carl Ablett and Brett Delaney also sidelined for lengthy spells, the team has lacked leaders at crucial times.

Compounding the issue has been the chronic loss of form suffered by a host of key men, most notably Kallum Watkins and Adam Cuthbertson, who have both been shadows of the players who were pushing for Man of Steel in 2015.

LOSS OF THE CLUB’S TRAINING FACILITIES

Coach Brian McDermott has not been slow to point to the disruption caused by the loss of the club’s Kirkstall training base, which was virtually destroyed in the Boxing Day floods and turned the Rhinos into nomads as they criss-crossed the city in search of new facilities.

On its own, the upheaval should not have had a direct effect on playing performances but, as the season began to unravel and the team started to look for excuses, it became a focus and probably played into the players’ minds more than it would otherwise have done.

SHELF LIFE OF A COACH

Five years is thought to be roughly the shelf life of a head coach and Brian McDermott’s sixth season in charge of the Rhinos will go some way towards tarnishing the reputation built up on the back of three Grand Final triumphs and consecutive Challenge Cup successes.

The theory is that a coach eventually runs out of ideas to keep his players motivated and many make the step up to director of rugby in order to remain involved while paving the way for a successor who can provide fresh impetus.

Leeds chief executive Gary Hetherington is known for his loyalty but it would be no surprise if McDermott, very much a hands-on coach, parted company with the club at the end of the 2016 season.

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Adam Cuthbertson

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