FIVE SUCCESSIVE defeats at the end of the regular season was Leeds Rhinos’ worst run in Super League since 2000, when they were coached by Dean Lance.
And just like this year, some dismal league form was interrupted by much better performances in the Challenge Cup.
Lance stepped into the Headingley hot seat when Graham Murray, who had steered Leeds to the inaugural Grand Final in 1998 and Challenge Cup glory the following year, left the club.
A centre, stand-off or loose-forward, Lance played for Newtown Jets in his native Australia before joining Canberra Raiders in 1984.
He was made captain the following year and skippered them when they lost in the 1987 Grand Final.
No longer captain, he was part of their Premiership-winning team in 1989 and played in that year’s World Club Challenge defeat by Widnes, before bowing out with a second successive Grand Final triumph.
Lance had a spell on the coaching staff at Canberra and was in charge of Perth Reds – an Australian Super League club – in 1997.
They closed at the end of the season and he joined Adelaide Rams, who also went out of existence after his first season there, prompting Lance’s move to England.
Leeds won Lance’s first game as coach, a Challenge Cup tie at Featherstone Rovers and went on to reach the final that year.
But his opening five league matches ended in defeat and only a win over Huddersfield-Sheffield Giants prevented Leeds going into the showpiece bottom of the league.
They lost to Bradford Bulls at Murrayfield – Lance leaving Kevin Sinfield out of his team after he had played in the earlier rounds – but things began to pick up after that and Rhinos won 15 of their next 17 games, including 13 in succession from May to August.
That is Leeds’ best run of the summer era and they finished the season fourth in the table, but went out of the play-offs in week two.
During the winter the club was found guilty of racial discrimination after being taken to an employment tribunal by ex-player Paul Sterling.
The tribunal criticised Lance’s attitude, but its judgement also described him as “professional and honourable”.
Rhinos began the following season with five straight victories, including a club record 106-10 thrashing of Swinton Lions in the Challenge Cup.
They reached the semi-final, but lost to St Helens and Lance departed “by mutual consent” after just one more game, a home defeat by Hull when Rob Burrow was given his debut.
Speaking at the time, Lance said: “It has been a rollercoaster ride and I firmly believe I am leaving the club in better shape than when I arrived.
“There is a wealth of young talent and I am sure they are going to blossom.”
He has been proved right. After leaving Rhinos Lance had a successful stint as football manager at Melbourne Storm, later taking up a similar role with North Queensland Cowboys.