Big pain for Big Mac at the Leeds Rhinos

By a long chalk, Brian McDermott's new role – as head coach of Leeds Rhinos – is his biggest yet.

The 40-year-old was hoping for something of an easy introduction – yet all he got was nothing but disruption due to un-seasonally early frost and snow!

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McDermott is now six weeks into his new position at Headingley Carnegie having been named as Brian McClennan's successor and stepping up from his assistant role back at the end of October.

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And in not one of McClennan's three years have Rhinos endured a beginning to a pre-season like this one with almost a foot of snow having covered the club's training ground, the white stuff only now starting to shift amidst a mild thaw.

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McDermott, former coach of Harlequins RL, pulls no punches about the disruption the recent big freeze has caused and admits any more such palava and his club will have to consider other options in order to get themselves training.

It's been a tricky introduction to life as Rhinos coach and hard graft from the start but then that's just the way that Big Mac likes it.

"It's not really the pre-season that I would have liked so far but we've got a long way to go," admitted McDermott.

"We are only in December and we've got another three months of this!


"But if it continues like this then I'm sure we'll have something better in place in the coming weeks. At the minute it is just taking everyone by surprise."

Admitting he has been busy from the start, he added: "It's one of those where as head coach of a Super League team, it's not a director of rugby.

"You don't really get that much time to sit back and think and talk about it, you are operational every single day.

"But I'm pretty much like that anyway and I'm not really a stand back

and let everyone else do it, person."

Not that McDermott and his Rhinos squad have been able to do much of late – the Leeds squad unable to train on grass all week though the coach and his players will feel noticeably warmer this morning with the temperature gage finally shooting up to around five degrees plus – as

opposed to five degrees minus.

Believe the weather forecasters and the Rhinos squad will soon be back training on turf but McDermott knows melting snow will cause a new problem of its own.

The Wakefield-born coach also feels disrupted pre-seasons have been a factor in England's recent failings on an international front as well.

"We are due some thawing and if that means the snow is gone then

great," said McDermott.

"But then all we'll have is slush all over the field and we will still be limited.

"But it's a fact, it's the reality and that's being in Super League and I think recently in the international series there were lots of areas where we weren't great and one of them, for me, on an international level, is when we needed to show a high level of skill or produce a

high level of skill with the ball, we couldn't.

"I don't think that's particularly because we haven't got the desire, we don't practice or it's not coached or the players don't want to do

it, the players just don't get the chance or the opportunity to do that session after session because literally we don't touch a dry ball until March.

"We'll have at least two weeks of snow and freezing conditions and this could go on for three weeks now and in terms of disrupting us in pre-season, it's going to affect us more than I first thought.

"We want to be using the ball and show how skilful we can be but you just don't get the chance to do that in the conditions.

"3G fields are marvellous but unless they are indoors they are actually quite dangerous.

"They lure the players into a false sense of security and while the actual ground isn't itself frozen, if someone puts their shoulders out and someone lands on the hard surface, you can get a bad injury.

"We do have a 3G field but there's not much we can do in terms of high level skill, we are still limited."

Limited indeed and all at a time when Leeds' annual Boxing Day clash with Wakefield Wildcats is just around the corner in 16 days no less.

It is, of course, 'only a friendly' but the fact remains that the match-up at Headingley Carnegie will still be former Bradford Bulls ace

McDermott's first Rhinos game in charge alongside new assistant and fellow ex-Bull, Jimmy Lowes.

No wonder he is so keen for an upturn in fortunes on the training field, the Rhinos coach admitting he is already highly excited about the Boxing Day encounter but vowing to take an interrupted preparation on the chin.

"The conditions we have got is what we have been dealt with and we're just going to handle them the best that we can," he said.

"There's a voice out there saying 'this is the situation so deal with it coach' and that's what we're doing.

"Yes, there will be some rustiness but Boxing Day is twofold really, it's a festive event and there's a lot of tradition involved with it but it's also the first time that as a coach I will see them in a game.

"It's something I am looking forward to and I don't want it just making into an event where we go out there and do some things for 10 or 15 minutes and throw some youngsters on.

"We will be playing some youngsters but we will certainly be putting in practice what we have worked on in pre-season."

When they have been able to get outside that is.

Meanwhile, the Rhinos have confirmed four more pre-season games.

On Sunday, January 16, Leeds will travel across the city to face Hunslet Hawks in the traditional Lazenby Cup clash at South Leeds Stadium (kick-off 3pm).

Then, on Sunday, January 23, the Rhinos will travel to Big Fellas Stadium to take on last year's beaten Championship Grand Finalists Featherstone Rovers (3pm).

The following week, the Rhinos will return to Cumbria to play Whitehaven at the Recreation Ground on Sunday, January 30 (kick-off 2.30pm).

Finally, the Rhinos will complete their pre-season preparations by travelling to York City Knights' Huntington Stadium to face the Championship One play-off winners on Wednesday, February 2, kick-off 8pm.

FRUSTRATION: Leeds United's Pierre-Michel Lasogga after his close-range header was saved against Nottingham Forest. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.

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