Leeds Rhinos chief says squad will be changed for new season

6 July 2018......  Gary Hetherington announces former captain Kevin Sinfield as the new Director of Rugby at the Leeds Rhinos. Picture Tony Johnson.
6 July 2018...... Gary Hetherington announces former captain Kevin Sinfield as the new Director of Rugby at the Leeds Rhinos. Picture Tony Johnson.
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Leeds Rhinos are in the process of revamping their squad for the 2019 campaign, chief executive Gary Hetherington has promised fans.

In a letter to season ticket holders, Hetherington confirmed a new policy after the dismal 2018 campaign.

Leeds Rhinos v Wigan Warriers fri 8th oct 2004...play offs' Kevin Sinfield and Dave Furner celebrate...Furners last game at Headingley

Leeds Rhinos v Wigan Warriers fri 8th oct 2004...play offs' Kevin Sinfield and Dave Furner celebrate...Furners last game at Headingley

Half-backs Tuimoala Lolohea and Callum McLelland have already been signed, but Rhinos are yet to announce any new faces since their year ended in a 17-16 home loss to Toronto Wolfpack last Friday.

In his letter, Hetherington said the “2019 season started for us last Saturday morning” and assured fans the recruitment process is underway.

He described former Rhinos forward Dave Furner’s appointment as coach “significant” and said: “He is excited with the challenge and is already at the heart of things, liaising closely with Kevin [Sinfield, Rhinos’ director of rugby], particularly on player recruitment.

“In recent years, we have always retained our best players and promoted the best from our Academy, so we’ve not had much space for new recruits, but in the light of this season, it is evident the current squad is in need of change and the process is underway.

“The Club are fully behind Kevin, who has been totally absorbed with First Team preparation since his arrival in July.

“This has given him a bird’s eye view of our Rugby Operation and enabled him to form a view on what needs to change, particularly with regards to player retention and recruitment.

“So, expect some key announcements throughout the off-season and I have no doubt we will start 2019 in the best possible shape and with a determination to challenge once again for major honours.”

Reflecting on 2018, Hetherington described the season as “disappointing and frustrating”.

“Our First Team haven’t played well at any time of the season,” he admitted.

“We had a solid start but players who have played well in the past have either been out injured or have struggled to recapture their form and the overall assessment is one of a failure to perform and deliver.”

The new South Stand will be fully open on Boxing Day and Hetherington pledged an “improved matchday presentation” for fans and corporate guests and a “very exciting experience both on and off the field in 2019”.

The full text of Hetherington’s letter reads:

“The 2019 season started for us last Saturday morning, but it’s important to firstly reflect on the past 12-months for the Rhinos.

“Last Friday’s game against Toronto brought the curtain down on what has been a disappointing and frustrating season with a fifth one-point defeat. In many ways, it mirrored the season and a ninth-place finish in the regular season was not what we envisaged from pretty much the same squad and staff who had finished second and Champions less than a year ago.

“The past 15-year period, the most successful in the Clubs’ history has now passed and as we know, past results don’t produce future success. We now enter a new era with a fresh focus. Some significant changes were made in July with the departure of Head Coach, Brian McDermott who had been at the heart of our past success and the return of Kevin Sinfield MBE. We made that change at a critical stage of the season to try and change our direction of travel and whilst it hasn’t resulted in significantly improved performances and results, it has enabled Kevin to better understand what changes now need to be made.

“Our First Team haven’t played well at any time of the season. We had a solid start but players who have played well in the past have either been out injured or have struggled to recapture their form and the overall assessment is one of a failure to perform and deliver.

“Injuries have played a part, but that’s part and parcel of any season and all teams are affected, so we shouldn’t place too much emphasis on this.

“And so now is the time to fully appraise every part of our operation and make whatever changes are needed as we look forward to next season.

“The appointment of David Furner is a significant one, since retiring from a stellar playing career, he was Head Coach of the Canberra Raiders for five-years and recently worked as the offensive coach for both Queensland Cowboys and South Sydney and as Assistant Coach to the Australian Kangaroos.

“He is excited with the challenge and is already at the heart of things, liaising closely with Kevin, particularly on player recruitment.

“In recent years, we have always retained our best players and promoted the best from our Academy, so we’ve not had much space for new recruits, but in the light of this season, it is evident the current squad is in need of change and the process is underway. The Club are fully behind Kevin, who has been totally absorbed with First Team preparation since his arrival in July. This has given him a bird’s eye view of our Rugby Operation and enabled him to form a view on what needs to change, particularly with regards to player retention and recruitment.

“So, expect some key announcements throughout the off-season and I have no doubt we will start 2019 in the best possible shape and with a determination to challenge once again for major honours.

“And, off the field, the completion of the Stadium facilities is now in sight and I am already looking forward to Boxing Day and the annual Wetherby Whaler Festive Challenge against Wakefield Trinity. This occasion will also mark the official opening of the new South Stand prior to kick off and 13 former players who have given distinguished service to the Club over every decade since the 1950s have been invited to perform this historic ceremony.

“And to compliment our new facilities, Head of Marketing, Matt Adams and his team are planning ways to improve our overall Match Day presentation and experience for all fans and likewise, Commercial Director, Rob Oates and his team are looking to do the same for our Corporate Members and Sponsors.

“So, in closing, thanks on behalf of all our Directors and Staff for your support throughout a challenging season and please be assured our organisation is in good shape and ready to implement and deliver a very exciting experience both on and off the field in 2019.

“Yours sincerely.

“Gary Hetherington - Chief Executive.”