Five positives from Leeds Rhinos' 2020 season
It ended two weeks earlier than they hoped, but Leeds Rhinos can reflect on a successful season which brought a trophy back to Emerald Headingley.
Despite falling at the first hurdle in the Betfred Super League play-offs, Rhinos reversed the decline of the past two seasons. Here are five positives to take from 2020.
1. Silverware: For the first time since 2015, the ribbons on the Coral Challenge Cup are blue and amber. True, they needed to win only three games, but Rhinos beat Super League table-toppers Wigan Warriors at the semi-final stage and gained valuable big-match experience. With only three trophies on offer, winning one of them is an achievement.
2. ‘New’ young players: Rhinos’ Cup run and this year’s fixture backlog meant a host of youngsters got a taste of first-team action, some of them much earlier than expected. None let themselves down and several - including Sam Walters, Jarrod O’Connor, Jack Broadbent and Liam Tindall - stood out in the games they played. Sixteen-year-olds Levi Edwards and Morgan Gannon also spent time with the senior squad and are very highly-rated.
3. ‘Old’ young players: Harry Newman was already an established first-choice centre, Mikolaj Oledzki became one of Leeds’ top props this year and Cameron Smith, Tom Holroyd, Callum McLelland and - especially - Alex Sutcliffe all made good progress. None of those is older than 22, so foundations are in place.
4. Consistency: Rhinos put together winning runs of five and four games in 2020, having struggled to record back-to-back victories in the two previous seasons. There were only two hefty defeats - to St Helens and against Wakefield in difficult circumstances - and Leeds competed in most fixtures, which they should do, but is progress.
5. Smiles better: They aren’t the finished article, but Rhinos looked a good side at times and for the most part were fun to watch. The players were clearly enjoying themselves and the spirit is better than it has been for years. They also found a way to win close games, which is crucial.
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