Four reasons why Leeds Rhinos’ troubles are not yet a major concern – Peter Smith
Are Leeds Rhinos in trouble?
On the face of it, five successive defeats from six games and with their Wembley hopes already ended, is a grim situation.
After five Betfred Super League rounds, Rhinos are ninth in the table, with only Salford Red Devils, Wakefield Trinity and newly-promoted Leigh Centurions below them.
It is not what was expected before a ball was kicked.
In terms of points, they are five outside the play-off zone and eight behind table-topping St Helens and, even at this early stage, a top-six finish looks a long way off.
It’s not an unfamiliar state of play, particularly in a season after winning silverware.
In 2016 and 2018 – when they were defending champions – Rhinos found themselves dragged into a battle against relegation and it was a similar story two years ago.
But, this season feels rather different.
Unlike other tough campaigns since 2015, Leeds’ problem isn’t a lack of quality in the squad; they just need to get their best players on the field.
At the beginning of the season, Rhinos had four specialist half-backs in a 32-man squad but, so far, two of those – Rob Lui and Callum McLelland – haven’t played and the others, Luke Gale and Kyle Eastmond, have four appearances between them.
In two of their six games so far, Leeds haven’t had any specialist halves.
To date, two second-rowers and a hooker have had to play there, as well as two players – Liam Sutcliffe and Richie Myler – who have experience in the role, but are now established elsewhere in the backs.
Against St Helens in the Cup, Rhinos were down to their seventh- and eighth-choice playmakers and the outside-backs have also been decimated.
At the moment, availability-wise, every step forward is followed by one back. Five players returned in round four at Hull KR, but another was ruled out before the game, one hurt during it and another suspended.
Liam Sutcliffe made his comeback against Huddersfield two days ago, but Eastmond joined the casualty list with an injury picked up in the captain’s run, the day before the match.
Rhinos should be concerned by their current plight.
Clearly, they need to snap out of their losing run sooner rather than later and things will look bleak if they lose to Wakefield, another injury-hit side struggling for a win, next time out.
But there are positives to cling to. For one, the quality of players currently on the sidelines.
Once the likes of Luke Gale, Harry Newman, Rob Lui, Zane Tetevano, Richie Myler and Cameron Smith return – and most of those aren’t far off now – Leeds’ matchday 17 will look much stronger.
Secondly, other than in the dire defeat at Hull KR, Rhinos’ effort has been good; they have simply lacked some organisation and quality in attack. Gale, who has effectively had a four-week mini pre-season, will make a big difference when he comes back against Wakefield in 10 days’ time.
If he had played at Huddersfield, Leeds would probably have won.
Thirdly, apart from against Hull KR, Leeds have been in all the games they’ve lost.
Even with a makeshift line-up, they are tending to hang in.
Fourthly, Jack Broadbent, Sam Walters and Jarrod O’Connor are all gaining valuable experience at the top level and, while they all have a lot to learn, none of them has looked out of place.
Morgan Gannon, just 17, has also had a couple of brief tastes of first-team action, against the country’s top two sides and he is as highly thought of as any Leeds academy product since Kevin Sinfield.
Rhinos experienced something similar in 2001 when Rob Burrow, Matt Diskin, Mark Calderwood and Danny McGuire were among young players promoted into the first-team squad.
It was tough going at the time, but all of them were Grand Final winners three years later.
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