The Leeds Rhinos coach, a former boxer, was in no mood to pull any punches when the subject of unsettled hooker James Segeyaro was discussed at a press briefing today. Dave Craven reports.
THERE is no hiding the dismay of irritated Leeds Rhinos head coach Brian McDermott at the way his player James Segeyaro is currently treating the club.
That becomes clearer still when he mentions some of the comments made by the disgruntled Papua New Guinea international who has said he wants to stay in Australia rather than come back and fulfil a two-year deal at Headingley.
Segeyaro, who initially joined from Penrith Panthers on loan in July before making the deal permanent a couple of months later, is still on a break Down Under but remains heavily linked with a move to NRL champions Cronulla Sharks.
Irked Leeds maintain he is not for sale and McDermott has reiterated he “expects” him back in the UK to start training in January.
However, the Headingley chief added they do have a “Plan B” if that did not occur. A betting man would say they might need it.
Either way, McDermott is not happy with the manner in which the 26-year-old – who cites homesickness as his issue – has acted.
“We made a commitment to James and he made one to us so we’re expecting him to return,” he said, Segeyaro having actually told Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington in Sydney he was happy at the club only to tell the Brisbane Courier Mail something entirely different just a couple of days later.
“I spoke to him on the phone and he expressed some concerns – which I don’t want to say too much about – in relation to coming back.
“It’s very disappointing with some of the things he’s said about being here and staring at four walls, which almost leads people to believe he was brought here and shoved into a concrete room and said ‘away you go.’
“I feel bad for some of our staff, like (head of athletic performance) Jason Davidson and Chris Gibson, who spent an unbelievable amount of time looking after him, taking care of him.
“Jason was practically on speed-dial, amongst other staff, and we were meeting him on days off, taking him for a coffee, having a meal with him – I can’t imagine how much spare time he had at all really.
“I thought he’d have been a pain in the backside for him so to say that is disappointing.
“We expect him back again. We’ve made an obligation to him and he engaged in an agreement with us and they aren’t to be broken lightly.
“I’m not talking about the legal part – that’s a story in itself, – but if he looks you in the eye and says he’ll be back whenever and he says ‘I’m not coming now’ that’s a big thing.
“I don’t think you should do that too often in your life.”
Segeyaro made a crucial impact for Leeds last season, joining when they were bottom of Super League but helping them win nine of their last 10 matches to safely negotiate the Qualifiers and threat of relegation.
McDermott agreed the ex-North Queensland Cowboys star enjoyed his football, too, but added: “Going away to Ealing Trailfinders was a big moment for everyone.
“That’s no disrespect to London Broncos at all because I’ve coached there, but you’re stood there thinking ‘how did we get to this?’
“It was a real sobering moment. The dressing rooms were like matchboxes, we were getting changed on some high school benches and it was a crazy day – but they’re some of the challenges you have to deal with with your mates.
“But I can imagine him struggling that day. After talking to him subsequently he did – he struggled – he wondered what he was doing over here. I get that.
“Even though he came from second grade NRL – he wasn’t playing first team, bear in mind – he played in a number of games that would have been sobering for him or a dent to his ego, I don’t know.
“But it was always for a cause. He knew that.
“He played in some big games over here as well when we beat the likes of Wigan and Hull, not to mention against Leigh.
“That was a brilliant day that, and if you look through history, there’s been a lot of overseas players that have come over and we’ve done a great job with them and vice-versa, so much so they’ve extended their stay. They love the place.
“This is not about rugby really; you shouldn’t be breaking too many commitments in life.
“I’ve had to explain it to my 18 year-old boy about what he‘d done and he shrugged his shoulders at me and said he’ll just pick up a club in Australia.
“But I said you’ve got to understand how big this is; don’t get a reputation for breaking agreements – or don’t get into it to start with.
“Consider it, think things through. It was a massive surprise.”
The chain of events has probably started due to State of Origin hooker Mick Ennis, the Cronulla Sharks captain who led the Sydney club to a first-ever Grand Final success in October, unexpectedly calling time on his career after that glorious night.
Cronulla are suddenly in real need of a genuine No9 ahead of their title defence and see Segeyaro as a perfect fit. Leeds, obviously, do not.
Given the lack of top-class hookers available at this late stage in the off-season, Hetherington will, no doubt, be keeping an eye on potential targets as a worst-case scenario while Down Under visiting family.
McDermott added: “There is always a Plan B.
“I don’t want to go into it too much but there’s always a backup, and agents are always in contact with a fluid list of players that are available. We went through this process when Beau (Falloon) left to get James here in the first place, and I still expect he’ll come back – hopefully in the right frame of mind.
“But of course, we’ve got plans in place.”
The Leeds coach admitted the player would also have to smooth over some ground with his team-mates if Rhinos did stand firm and make him return to Super League.
“If and when James comes back, he’ll fit into what we do and yes he’ll have to make some ground back up on the players,” he said.
But, tellingly, former Great Britain international McDermott added: “The players are in the mood of ‘right, OK if he’s not coming back we’re disappointed but we move on’ and they’ve done that pretty quick, by the way.
“I know he (Segeyaro) is very family orientated but I can’t imagine his family or anyone saying break that agreement because you’re homesick.
“To pull out as your homesick it needs putting into perspective.
“I think someone has been into his ear as well and it’s those people as well – they’re OK, nobody knows who they are, I don’t know even if I can suspect who they are.
“But they can step out of the limelight and say ‘right James you go deal with all this now; you’ve put the flame to blue touch paper and now you have to go deal with all this now we’ve put this idea in your head.’
“It’s out of order and it’s wrong.”
That may be the case. But whether or not it is enough to keep Segeyaro at Leeds remains to be seen.
Either way, this could keep running for some time yet.