Hetherington has admitted to “damping down expectations” after Rhinos’ treble-winning campaign in 2015, but he stressed the aim for next year is a repeat performance.
Rhinos were beginning their pre-season campaign at home to Wakefield Trinity Wildcats today, in the Wetherby Whaler Festive Challenge and Hetherington reckons it is the start of what will be a hugely challenging 10 months.
Of Rhinos’ ambitions for 2016, Hetherington said: “We have got the World Club Challenge coming up, which will be another special night at Headingley.
“There will be 30 Super League battles, but we are desperate to retain the league leaders’ shield – hopefully with a bit more to spare than there was this year.
“We know every other team in Super League wants to beat the champions and injuries will play a part.
“But our ambition is to make history for the club by winning the Challenge Cup for the third consecutive year and then go on to another appearance at Old Trafford, where we have so many good memories.
“We know we are going to be in for a long, tough season, but we are going into it with the knowledge we have an outstanding group of players and all the ingredients.
“We have hunger, a desire to win things and still a lot of experienced players who have been at the club a long time.
“The new signings and young players will add to that and I really think there has never been a better time to be a fan of Leeds Rhinos and rugby league.”
The Leeds chief insisted losing four key players from last term’s squad won’t prevent Rhinos competing for honours.
“The players who have gone from this year’s top-20 are Kevin Sinfield, Kylie Leuluai, Paul Aiton and Jamie Peacock,” he said.
“We’ve brought in Keith Galloway, Beau Falloon and Anthony Mullally, so we are replacing quite a bit of experience there and looking at our retained players, there’s real potential for more success. Brian (coach Brian McDermott) – and the players themselves – will be looking for their potential to grow.
“It is all very much part of the transition and we are hoping it will be a seamless one.
“Experienced players have gone from the squad, but players with a lot of experience have come in and they are all desperate to win something.
“Keith Galloway has played a lot of games in the NRL, he has played State of Origin and for Australia, but he has never won anything.
“Beau Falloon is another experienced NRL player who has never won anything and the same applies to Anthony Mullally in Super League.
“They can see a genuine prospect of being part of a team that can win something.”
Hetherington said he also has high hopes for players just outside of Leeds Rhinos’ squad top-20.
“The really exciting part is the four players who have come into the 25-man full-time squad: Ashton Golding, Jordan Lilley, Ash Handley and Jordan Baldwinson,” he said.
“They are a really exciting crop of young players and they have an opportunity to make a contribution at an early stage of their careers.”