Leeds Rhinos talking points: Important Harry Newman context, Rohan Smith's big issue, player of year so far
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Rhinos could achieve home and away wins over Saints for the first time since 2015. Here’s five talking points.
1: The 18-14 Betfred Challenge Cup defeat by Wigan wasn’t Rhinos centre Harry Newman’s finest 80 minutes, but he remains an outstanding talent, as he proved with his two interceptions tries in the previous game against Wigan.
Newman certainly needs to rein himself in on occasions, particularly in how he reacts to match officials and he seems to enjoy winding up opposition players, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
But sometimes there’s a thin line between being confident - backing yourself - and selfish. Newman got it wrong late in the game against Wigan, when he should have passed to Richie Myler, but tried to take on full-back Bevan French and was tackled.
Players have to make split-second decisions. Newman made a mistake, having got away with it in an identical situation earlier in the game and has to accept the criticism.
The important thing is to learn from it. It’s worth remembering Newman is still only 23 and coming back from a series of long-term injuries.
He is still very much in credit in terms of what he brings to Rhinos and it’s worth considering this question: would you rather he was in your team, or the opposition’s?
2: Rhinos’ season isn’t over, but all their eggs are now in one basket and they need to string a run of wins together in Betfred Super League.
Approaching the halfway point in the campaign, Leeds are eighth on the table, two spots outside the play-offs. That’s better than last year, but not good enough for a club of Rhinos’ stature.
Saints are one place above Leeds on points difference, with a game in hand, so Friday’s game is a big one. Rhinos are only four points adrift of second place so they are still very much in the hunt and their three games after Saints are against the sides in 11th, 12th and 10th.
The season could still go either way, but right now Rhinos’ 50 per cent winning record and just 10 more points scored than conceded - is an accurate reflection of the disappointing way their campaign has panned out.
3: Everybody associated with the club - coaching staff, players, media and fans - must be getting fed up of saying the same things.
The only consistent thing about Rhinos this year has been their inconsistency. At their best, with their top players on the field, they appear capable of beating anyone in the competition.
Unfortunately, that best only appears every other game, or half. At least they varied things against Wigan, starting well and leading at the interval - for just the third time in 13 games - before making errors, conceding preventable tries and looking lost on attack in the final 40.
It is frustrating. As things stand, Leeds are trapped in no man’s land midway between being a really good side and one just making up the numbers.
4: Rhinos will be hoping the calf muscle injury which kept Blake Austin out of last week’s game isn’t long-term.
Austin hasn’t always been on his game this year, but when he is, there aren’t many better number sixes in the competition.
Having Morgan Gannon , a second-rower, start at stand-off, for the first time, in such a big game wasn’t ideal, but with Myler needed at full-back, because Ash Handley was also missing and the only other specialist half, Jack Sinfield, unavailable through concussion, coach Rohan Smith didn’t have much choice.
It was very much part of the learning process for 19-year-old Gannon, but Smith - who sees him at every training session - clearly believes he has something to offer as a stand-off and last week proved Rhinos need cover in that position.
5: Who would be your Rhinos player of the year so far?
While a lot could still happen, it’s unlikely Leeds will figure on this year’s Man of Steel shortlist. But in terms of their best performer, loose-forward Cameron Smith is probably the front-runner.
He was outstanding, again, in the first half of last week’s tie, though like the team he faded after the break.
Tom Holroyd, who now has five tries to his name including in successive matches against Wigan, has given a good account of himself and, at 22, is only going to get better.
Jarrod O’Connor, James McDonnell, Austin, Rhyse Martin and Nene Macdonald have also impressed at times.
Despite a couple of layoffs, Ash Handley has also been consistently good and was badly missed last week, when he was unavailable because of illness.