CHIEF EXECUTIVE Gary Hetherington admits a stroke of good fortune turned a potential disaster into a major coup for Leeds Rhinos.
Rhinos pulled a rabbit out of a hat last December by signing Matt Parcell as a late-notice replacement after hooker James Segeyaro refused to return for pre-season training.
Parcell went on to become the only Rhinos player selected for the Super League Dream Team and has been arguably the biggest influence on them reaching Saturday’s Grand Final against Castleford Tigers.
“He is a player we tried to sign several years ago so we were aware of his abilities,” Hetherington said.
“It was a bit of good fortune in many ways and being in the right place at the right time.
“I was in Sydney at the time and speaking to people over there his name cropped up as a possibility and we exploited that immediately.
“He has been an outstanding signing and he has been great for the team and the club, not only his form on the pitch, but also his professionalism.
“He has been a big asset, played long minutes and made a major contribution.”
Hetherington described Rhinos’ transformation from relegation candidates last year to title challengers as “quite remarkable”, but insisted he was always confident they would come good. He said: “We won the treble in 2015 and had a disappointing season in 2016, then with virtually the same playing and coaching staff we’ve turned things around from the depths of last season to the triumphs, so far, of this year.
“We believed that a change wasn’t required at the end of 2016. We did a full review after the season and, in many ways in 2016, the causes were out of our control.
“We had injuries to so many key players, plus the flooding and loss of the training ground and so on.
“I believed we didn’t have a problem with the playing group and we didn’t have a problem with the coaching group either.
“What we needed was a bit of stability and an opportunity for those players to show exactly what they could do.”
He added: “I was always confident we would be strong this season. We do a prediction competition for all our members and I predicted Castleford, Hull and Leeds would all make the top four – though I also had Warrington in there and I didn’t have Wakefield in the top five.
“But I was confident we’d have a good year this year. We have a very strong playing group, emerging players as well as experienced ones and a lot of stability in the group and a lot of hunger as well.
“I think our squad has displayed all those qualities this season.
“It has been a long, tough season and we have come out of it winning as many games as we did in 2015.
“While our form, like every other team’s form, has been patchy on occasions and we have lacked the fluency the coaching staff will have been striving for, we have shown we are a very difficult side to beat.”