Inside RL: Coach Mac has earned chance to fix-up Leeds '“ Smith
LAST MONDAY'S defeat by Wakefield Trinity Wildcats was one of Leeds Rhinos' worst results for years.
That should not detract from what Wakefield achieved.
They finished 27 points behind Rhinos at the end of last year’s weekly rounds, but will go into this weekend’s ninth set of matches two points ahead.
Chris Chester, in charge for less than two full weeks, has got them playing with a new freedom, confidence and enthusiasm.
They deserved to win against Leeds, having been hammered in the penalty count, reduced to 12 men for 10 minutes and on the defensive for long spells.
It was a tremendous win for Wildcats, certainly in their top half a dozen since being promoted to Super League in 1999. But the reality is, Rhinos are in a pickle.
It is early days, but as last year’s treble winners, their fall from grace has been spectacular.
There may be a number of factors behind their poor form.
They have lost some key players from last year and an already short pre-season was disrupted by flooding at their training base.
They have also had a run of injuries to influential players, but judging by the reaction of the crowd on Monday and what has been said on social media since, coach Brian McDermott is regarded by fans as being most responsible.
McDermott is Leeds’ most successful coach, having won three Grand Finals, two Challenge Cups, the league leaders’ shield and World Club Challenge.
Yet, Rhinos’ record in the league with him in charge is average: One sixth place finish, two fifths, a third and top last year.
Much of the success he has enjoyed is now being attributed to the influence of departed due Kevin Sinfield and Jamie Peacock.
Obviously they were a big part of it, but it’s unfair to blame a coach when the team loses, but not give him credit when they win.
McDermott has proved he can get his men up for big games and he turned things around in both 2011 and 2012, when Leeds climbed out of a hole to finish fifth and went on to win the Grand Final.
He had Sinfield and Peacock in his team then and the former describes him as the best coach he played under.
Despite his success, McDermott has never totally won over Rhinos’ fans.
In particular his use of substitutes, sometimes leaving one on the bench for an entire game as he did with Jordan Lilley at Castleford a week ago, has been questioned.
Rugby league is a results business and teams and individuals can’t live on past glories.
But that said, McDermott’s record in terms of winning trophies is unmatched and should count strongly in his favour.
What happened last year must have bought him at least a year’s grace and he deserves an opportunity to prove he can fix the current mess.
After six seasons the time for a change may naturally be approaching, but it’s not here yet.
He will know if and when he has taken Rhinos as far as he can.
BILLY WATTS was part of Leeds Rugby League – and later the Rhinos – for longer than anyone could remember.
For everyone associated with the club – or one of their rivals – Billy was a happy, welcoming presence at any game Rhinos were involved in.
Take a look at still pictures or highlights from each of Rhinos’ Grand Final wins and it is impossible to miss him.
He is there, huge smile on his face, celebrating on the pitch with the triumphant players.
The gladiators’ willingness to share their big moment with an elderly man, someone who had never played rugby league at a senior level, says much about his status at the club.
Though he retired last year – fittingly, at the end of Leeds’ greatest season – it is almost impossible to imagine Rhinos without him.
Billy, who was 92 when he died last week, achieved the considerable feat of earning the label “legend” without ever kicking or passing a ball for the Headingley club.
He worked in the club’s lottery, was ever-present as timekeeper for four decades and a constant figure at training.
A lovely man, he made anyone he met feel part of the club or sport.
He also had a sense of mischief. During one of Rhinos’ pre-season camps in Florida, his sleep was disturbed by a group of senior school-age children staying in the same hotel.
Billy waited until the early hours, then his room mate was awoken by the sight of the octagenarian sneaking past, clad in shorts and a tee-shirt, on to the landing outside his room – followed sharply by a loud and long blast on the airhorn used in his capacity as official timekeeper.
Rhinos will continue without Billy, as should be the case.
But for a long time, at every game, it will feel like something important is missing.