GOOD THINGS come to an end and Leeds Rhinos’ Golden Generation are approaching that point now.
Five Leeds players have appeared in each of the club’s six Super League Grand Final wins.
Ryan Bailey moved on last autumn to Hull KR, where his future is clouded in uncertainty after just one appearance this season.
Of the others, Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow are now 32, Jamie Jones-Buchanan is 33 and Kevin Sinfield 34
All have begun to talk about their plans for the future after hanging up their boots, though none of them has yet set a firm date for retirement.
Another of Rhinos’ all-time greats, Jamie Peacock is 37 and Kylie Leuluai will reach that age on Sunday.
Peacock has made it clear this will be his final season, though Leuluai has spoken about possibly going around again depending on how he feels at the end of the year.
Clearly the Leeds side of three or four years’ time will look very different to the one which has featured so far this season and that impending transition is – possibly alongside the redevelopment of an even more ageing ground – the biggest issue facing the club in the immediate future.
The players mentioned above are club legends on a par with anyone to have worn the famous blue and amber, but obviously others will have to step in and do a job when the likes of Sinfield and Peacock retire and while that has been a growing concern for Rhinos fans, the signs are beginning to look surprisingly positive.
As coach Brian McDermott says elsewhere in today’s paper. the transition is actually well underway, with youngsters like Liam Sutcliffe – touted as Leeds’ next No 6 – and rising prop Brad Singleton both having had a taste of top-flight action.
They have had to be patient. Singleton made one subsitute appearance in each of his first two seasons before getting an extended run in 2013.
He played 24 times last year, without looking totally at home, but has made a real impact this year. At just 22 his best years are well ahead of him and he could be a permanant fixture in the team over the next decade.
The same applies to Sutcliffe, who has an opportunity to enhance his claim with Sinfield currently on the casualty list. As a 20-year-old playing in a pivotal position, he is still learning – but he has an all-round game and the attributes to go a long way.
Though he remains very much part of the squad, Rhinos have effectively found someone to take over from Leuluai in the shape of Aussie Adam Cuthbertson. He has started all six games this year with Leuluai making his four appearances off the bench.
It seemed a mistake when Rhinos made only one off-season signing, but what a recruit Cuthbertson has proved to be. He is one of – maybe even the – form props in Super League so far and combines toughness with skill.
The 29-year-old can carry the ball, offload, tackle and score tries and providing he remains happy and injury-free he could become as influential as Leuluai has been since his debut in 2007.
Singleton’s form and what Andy Yates has shown in his brief game time so far – plus speculation linking Rhinos with New Zealand Warriors’ Sam Rapira – suggest Leeds may actually be better off in the front-row department than it seemed at the start of the year.
Rhinos are operating with a thin squad. Four players have been injured this year and one left out for disciplinary reasons. One of the replacements – Yates – made his Super League debut – and two others – Ashton Golding and Ash Handley – came in for only their second senior appearance.
A fourth was the still relatively green Sutcliffe, so Brett Delaney has been the only experienced player to come into the team since the season began.
That reflects the modern game, with clubs limited to 25-man full-time squads.
How they handle that is crucial for Leeds, but with the likes of Jordan Baldwinson and Rob Mulhern gaining experience at a good level in the Championship on loan or dual-registration, indications are the future remains bright.