NEXT YEAR is set to be “special” for Leeds Rhinos – and will mark “the end of an era”, according to chief executive Gary Hetherington.
Hetherington admits the 2015 campaign will be the final opportunity to see Rhinos’ golden generation playing together as a team.
Outlining his philosophy for next year, the Leeds chief predicted: “We have a nucleus of players who have played a key role in delivering the most successful era in the club’s history and that can continue next year, but then it will be the end for some, with Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai already announcing it will be their last hoorah.
“I hope as many people as possible – and especially youngsters – come and watch this group play. I still hear people in Leeds talk with pride that they saw Lewis Jones.
“It’s 50 years since Lewis played for Leeds, but the memory of his playing days has lived with so many. I want people in 50 years’ time to say how they saw Kevin Sinfield, Danny McGuire, Rob Burrow, Jamie Peacock and others. All are in the autumn of their career and as we saw with Keith Senior, it can often come to a sudden end.”
But Hetherington insisted Rhinos’ over-30s will not be forced out because of age.
He added: “There is no time limit on any of our players. Some like Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai will call time and retire, but our policy has changed.
“In the past, like most clubs, once a player had reached 32, we would find a replacement, but not now. Players nowadays are conditioned and managed differently and our coaches can assess the quality and consistency of their performance much more accurately with the aid of modern technology.
“We know for example that both Jamie and Kylie performed better throughout 2014 than they did in 2010. Our policy is therefore to retain our senior members and at the same time introduce young talented players into the squad who will strive to replace them through performance.
“This creates healthy competition and the challenge for such as Stevie Ward, Brad Singleton, Mitch Achurch, Josh Walters, Liam Sutcliffe, Elliot Minchella and others is to gain selection in front of their more established team-mates.
“This will, inevitably, see a natural evolution and change in the team and over time create a new core group of leaders.
“The benefits to our younger players to be amongst the seniors is invaluable and they are getting a unique education which will assist the club in years to come.”
Hetherington reckons that competition will be good for the team next year. He said: “In 2015 we will see a number of players play every game as though it will be their last and a host of others striving to take their chance and cement their place in the team.
“We have only one new signing from outside the club, but one who can make a big impact. Adam Cuthbertson is an established, NRL, ball-playing forward and at 29 he is experienced, talented, tough and determined to make a difference.”
Hetherington also underlined his support for boss Brian McDermott, who guided Rhinos to Challenge Cup success this year, but also their lowest league placing since 1996.
“Our other strengths include our coaching and backroom staff,” the chief said.
“In Brian McDermott, we have one of the few experienced Super League coaches who has held a head coach role for more than three years and he and his staff have created a terrific culture of spirit, dedication, camaraderie and ambition.
“We also have stability which, I believe, is a key factor for success. Leeds United had it in the Revie era and Manchester United had it with Alex Ferguson. When clubs lose it, they often suffer and take a long time to get it back.”