Leeds Rhinos: Five talking points for the off-season

Kallum Watkins.
Kallum Watkins.
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LEEDS RHINOS’ poorest season for 20 years ended on an upbeat note with them finishing top of the First Utility Qualifiers following a 37-12 win over Leigh Centurions in their final game.

Here are five talking points for the off-season.

1: Rhinos’ defence is in good shape. After leaking 52 points at Warrington in May, Rhinos conceded a total of 198 in their last 14 games, at an average of just over 14 per match.

The problem all year was getting over the opposition’s line. The tools are there, but Leeds desperately need an organising half-back with a quality kicking game to complement McGuire, Burrow and Lilley and pull everything together.

2: Hats off to Kallum Watkins, who was Rhinos’ only ever-present this year.

The England centre started and finished all 32 of Leeds’ competitive games, a total of 2,560 minutes’ playing time.

His form over the second half of the season was one of the reasons they avoided relegation as comfortably as they did – and he has added goal kicking as a new string to his bow.

3: Josh Jordan-Roberts became the third player to graduate from the academy to the first team this year when he came off the bench in the second half against Leigh, after Cameron Smith and Sam Hallas.

The experienced gained by those three, plus Jordan Lilley, Ashton Golding, Ash Handley and Josh Walters, was one of the bright points in Rhinos’ injury-ravaged campaign.

4: Coach Brian McDermott described Rhinos’ support this season as the year’s big positive.

Leigh fans played their part, but an attendance of 14,737 for a televised game on a Thursday night when there was nothing really at stake was extraordinary.

Rhinos have been the best-supported team in the British game this year, averaging more than 15,000 and the fans’ loyalty has been outstanding.

5: Rhinos play cross-city Hunslet every pre-season for the Lazenby Cup, though the original trophy is missing and the name has no real relevance now.

So how about introducing a new prize next year?

It would be nice to see the sides do battle for the Jepson-Watson Trophy, in memory of Harry Jepson and Frank ‘Shanks’ Watson, stalwarts of both clubs who died recently.