Leeds Rhinos' Gary Hetherington speaks out after 'painful and embarrassing' loss, makes pledge on 2024 squad
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The final whistle was greeted with boos and chants of “you’re not fit to wear the shirt” from a section of the South Stand.
Hetherington, who has been in his role since the autumn of 1996, has outlined what he believes are reasons for the defeat and insisted Rhinos are determined to build a squad capable of challenging for honours in 2024.
Hetherington told The Yorkshire Evening Post: “A 50-0 defeat at Headingley is embarrassing for everyone at the club and it was a painful experience for all our fans, sponsors, staff, management, coaching staff and not least the players themselves.”
He admitted: “In an elite competition like the Betfred Super League, results like these shouldn’t happen, but they do.
“Something similar occurred at the DW Stadium in May when the Rhinos, down to 12 men, racked up 40 points against a dejected Wigan team - and it will happen again, because that is the nature of sport.”
And he stressed: “When it does, we need to understand the reasons behind it. What we saw last Saturday was a near full-strength Wigan team playing with a lot of confidence against
a Rhinos team lacking a lot of senior players, especially in key positions.
“It was also one of those days when all the big calls went against us, but at the end of the day, we couldn’t score and let in nine tries, which left us all dejected.
“We are nearing the end of this season in a very different place to where we were last season, when we had senior players returning from injury into a near full-strength team which produced momentum and confidence and some excellent victories to take us to Old Trafford for the Grand Final.
“This time, we, like a few other Super League teams, have a depleted squad who are trying hard for each other in every game, but are playing with little confidence and no momentum and are hanging on in every game.
“The Rhinos team has plenty of spirit which has been evident all season and even last Saturday they fought hard, but were outplayed by slick and confident opposition on a day when everything went against us.”
Though Rhinos could still qualify for the Super League play-offs, they need to win their remaining two games and hope Salford Red Devils and Warrington Wolves don’t pick up another point.
Hetherington stressed: “It is important for us to finish the season as strongly as possible before announcing our squad for 2024, which will be very different to the one [coach] Rohan Smith inherited 18 months ago and one which has to be capable of challenging at the top of the Super League competition.
“It’s what all our fans, sponsors and staff deserve and I can assure all Rhinos stakeholders this is what the club is determined to deliver.”