This time last year Leeds had just completed a convincing win against Hull FC in the Challenge Cup whilst simultaneously sitting top of the table – today they are bottom and have been knocked out of the Challenge Cup.
So where has it all gone wrong for the Rhinos this year? There are three key factors in Leeds’ demise: loss of key players, injuries and a complete lack of leadership.
Undeniably, we lost three of the greatest players to ever play at the end of 2015, and, although many predicted a quieter season no one predicted the dramatic fall from grace that has occurred.
These players could never be replaced, but the recruitment has not been good enough and senior players haven’t stood up to the plate.
The high rate of injury amongst our players cannot be overlooked; per first team player we have had more injuries than any other club in the League. Perhaps this can be attributed to the loss of our training ground giving us lower levels of fitness – although the team we have fielded should have been capable of winning more games than we have.
Finally, and most importantly, we have been lacking a leader on the pitch. From the day of the announcement I did not think Danny McGuire should be our captain; he does enough on the pitch without the added responsibility that comes with captainship. The roll should have been given to one of the younger players, namely Stevie Ward, Zak Hardaker or Liam Sutcliffe.
Leeds’ pre-season advertising branded this year as a ‘new beginning’ for the club, yet we appear to be clinging on to past glories. It may have been beneficial to move on, drop the youngsters in at the deep end and get some cohesion within the team to look to the future.
This week Leeds face an out-of-form Widnes.
They have performed a microcosm of Leeds’ fall from the top – starting the season as unbeatable at the top of the table, now suddenly they have slipped down the table and look unlikely to make an impact when the table splits.
I think Leeds have too much for Widnes.
And a third victory in a row is just around the corner for the Rhinos.
Well it’s back to Super League after the Challenge Cup break.
I’m not sure if the enforced weekend off came at the wrong time following our recent victories; hopefully it’s given the players time off to rest and recover from any niggles before the last four games prior to the split.
We may even have the luxury of even more fit players to select from as well as the new hooker.
From the footage I’ve seen, James Segeyaro appears a good signing even if it proves only to be a short-term stay. He looks a strong tackler and not afraid to take on the defence, especially close to the line – something I feel Leeds have struggled with this season.
We have also said goodbye to Man of Steel, Zak Hardaker, as he starts his new challenge Down Under. How he gets on I guess will be down to him and his commitment.
On to Sunday and a crucial game against Widnes. Lose and it’s guaranteed Middle-8s rugby, win and it keeps the slim top-eight hopes alive for another week.
Widnes have showed this year significant improvements, but still lack any real consistency to mount a serious league challenge. They can be very good or very poor, often in the same game. I can see a close game, but with Leeds continuing their improvement and winning again.
Another victory and a good one at Wakefield.
To concede only 12 points in 200 minutes is the biggest positive I can take from it. I don’t think we will finish in top eight, however; we need to continue to build on the past two weeks.
Just as Rhinos start to build a winning streak they found themselves with a weekend break.
Hopefully they will be able to keep the momentum into the game on Sunday at home to Widnes. We need to forget about the debacle that occurred earlier in the season at Widnes and set our minds on gaining as many points as possible before the middle of July.
With the news that Zak Hardaker has left our shores for the NRL and James Segeyaro is travelling in the opposite direction, we may have a new hooker for Sunday’s match. Let’s hope that he can settle quickly and make a big impact in a short time. I think Leeds Rhinos have the better half of this deal but only time will tell.
Despite the negativity of a month ago, Leeds’ encouraging performances in June mean that I have not yet surrendered them to the Middle-8s.
Leeds can still mathematically make the top eight, and demolishing Widnes on Sunday would really set the cat amongst the pigeons. Come on Leeds!
With four rounds of the regular season remaining, Widnes need just one more win to qualify for the Super-8s, and I’m sure they’ll be relishing the chance of claiming that all-important eighth place with a win against Leeds.
Having said this, I don’t see why we can’t make it three on the bounce. Carl Ablett, Tom Briscoe and Brett Delaney are all in ‘contention’ this week – another typically vague injury update – and James Segeyaro looks set to debut, so it will be good to see what kind of performance we can put in with a strengthened team.
Despite Gary Hetherington’s optimism that we could still finish eighth, something which is mathematically possible, I’m hoping we keep up our winning run long enough to see us safely through the Qualifiers.