THE 2013 season was a rare disappointment during a period of sustained success for Leeds Rhinos.
But Rob Burrow, who scored eight tries in 32 appearances that year, believes the adversity Rhinos went through could stand them in good stead for the future.
Leeds began the year by losing their World Club crown to Melbourne Storm, who won a thriller 18-14 in front of a packed house at Headingley Carnegie.
The home team had Aussie Joe Vickery on the wing for only his second senior game, after Zak Hardaker was ruled out due to a broken thumb.
Vickery joined Leeds on trial in pre-season and was signed after scoring a brace of tries in the Boxing Day clash with Wakefield Trinity Wildcats.
Ben Jones-Bishop missed that game through an illness – a blood clot on a lung – which was to keep him out of action until the summer.
That – and Hardaker’s mishap – set the pattern for a season when Rhinos lost a host of key players through injury and were forced to constantly reshuffle, throwing a number of untested youngsters in at the deep end. Other players to suffer a long-term lay-off included Mitch Achurch (severe knee and ankle injuries) Carl Ablett (broken thumb), Ryan Bailey (thumb), Brett Delaney (knee), Jamie Jones-Buchanan (knee), Danny McGuire (fractured leg), Kevin Sinfield (broken thumb), Kallum Watkins (ankle) and Stevie Ward (dislocated shoulder).
Academy prospects Jordan Baldwinson, James Duckworth, Alex Foster, Elliot Minchella, Thomas Minns and Liam Sutcliffe all got a taste of first-team action as Rhinos improved their league position a couple of places to third, but bowed out of the Challenge Cup in the fifth round and were halted one game away from Old Trafford.
“It was a disappointing season, but we were massively injured,” recalled Burrow, who was one of the few players to get through the year relatively unscathed.
“We were missing a lot of senior players, but it was a good opportunity for a lot of young lads to come through.
“I played a big role in that time and I quite enjoyed playing that free role. It gave some young lads chance to really get some game time, with people like Kev (Sinfield), Magsy (Danny McGuire) and others out for quite a while. Sutty (Sutcliffe) got a lot of game time, so it was a good opportunity, just like me and Mags got our chance a few years ago.
“It was disappointing and an indifferent year, but that’s what happened to us when we started playing. It was disappointing at the time, but good for a lot of young lads and they’ll be better for it in the future.”
Minchella made a try scoring debut in a win at Salford in August, aged just 17. Burrow said: “If everyone had been fit he might not have got that chance and Sutty might only have been getting 10 minutes here and there.”
Despite the injuries, Rhinos were more consistent in the league than they had been during their previous two seasons under coach Brian McDermott, when they had finished fifth, but went on to win the Grand Final. They slipped as low as eighth at one stage in March, but moved fourth in June and stayed there until a win at DW Stadium in the final round of the regular season leap-frogged them over Wigan Warriors into third place.
Rhinos were well-beaten at Warrington Wolves in the qualifying play-off, but bounced back with a dramatic home win over St Helens in an elimination tie – courtesy of McGuire’s late drop goal – before their season ended in a 22-12 defeat at eventual champions Wigan.
Burrow admitted that was a game too far. “We didn’t have full match fitness,” he said.
“We had too many people in the team who were carrying knocks or had just got back and that made it hard. It was really disappointing to finish like that. The injuries weren’t an excuse, but they were a massive reason why we didn’t do better.”
It was the first season since 2006 when Rhinos did not reach a major domestic final. Their run of three successive Wembley appearances ended with a tame 24-8 loss at Huddersfield Giants in the Challenge Cup.
Rhinos also lost their 100 per cent record at the Magic Weekend, being pipped 20-16 by Wigan after McGuire had what looked like being an equalising try ruled out late on by the video referee. Highlights that season included the round 27 victory at Wigan and Leeds’ first win over St Helens at Langtree Park, in March.
An 18-18 home draw with Bradford Bulls later that month was part of an eight-game unbeaten run, Leeds’ best sequence of the campaign, which was ended by the Cup setback at John Smith’s Stadium.Huddersfield were emerging as Rhinos’ bogey team, also beating them home and away in Super League.
Rhinos did show some good form towards the end of the year, winning six of their last seven games in the regular rounds, the defeat being a dire 16-12 home reverse by Hull KR.
Key player of 2013: Jamie Peacock
ONE OF Leeds Rhinos’ greatest careers didn’t get off to the best of starts.
Rhinos achieved a major coup towards the end of 2005 when they confirmed the signing of England captain Jamie Peacock from Bradford Bulls. Peacock bowed out of Bradford by skippering them to Grand Final victory over Leeds, but 2006 proved to be a disappointing campaign.
Peacock took time to adjust to his new surroundings and admitted he was “disappointed” with his performances over the final third of the season – though he went on to be named international forward of the year for his performances in that autumn’s Tri-Nations.
Peacock, then 28, played 29 times for Rhinos in 2006, scoring three tries, but missed out on an appearance at Old Trafford for the first time since 2002. Doubts were raised about whether he would settle at Leeds, but Peacock – who turned 37 yesterday – has since gone on to become arguably the club’s finest signing of all time – and certainly in the summer era.
At times Peacock’s sheer will to win has seemed to drag Rhinos through tough spells and it is doubtful the past decade would have been as successful had he decided to remain a Bull.
Having already won Super League three times and the World Club Challenge and Challenge Cup twice each at Bradford, he has added four more Grand Final victories in Leeds colours, twice been a world champion and gained another Challenge Cup winner’s medal this year.
Awarded an MBE for services to rugby league in 2012, Peacock played 26 times for Great Britain and 21 Tests with England, captaining his country from 2005-2011.
Man of Steel in 2003 and a nominee for the past two seasons, he was Rhinos’ player of the year in 2008, when he received another Man of Steel nomination and 2013 and retained the accolade this year.
Peacock, who has confirmed 2015 will be his final campaign as a player, has been awarded a three-month testimonial by Leeds, having been granted a similar honour by the RFL in 2009.
2013 season in numbers
1: Try scored by Joe Vickery in 10 appearances before he left the club.
3: Leeds’ position in the Super League table.
5: Rhinos’ run of Wembley appearances ended with a Challenge Cup fifth round exit at Huddersfield.
8: Players made their Rhinos debut – Mitch Achurch, Jordan Baldwinson, James Duckworth, Alex Foster, Elliot Minchella, Thomas Minns, Liam Sutcliffe and Joe Vickery.
20: Touchdowns for top try scorer Kallum Watkins.
41: Successful kicks landed by Kevin Sinfield, before a miss in the Super League round five win at St Helens.
108: Goals kicked by Kevin Sinfield, including two drop goals.
507: Points conceded by Rhinos in the regular season.
712: Points scored by Rhinos in the regular season.
15,200: Average home gate in all competitions.
World Club Challenge: Friday, February 22, at Headingley Carnegie. Leeds Rhinos 14 (Tries Hall, Jones-Buchanan. Goals Sinfield 3) Melbourne Storm 18. Leeds Rhinos: Watkins, Vickery, Ablett, Moon, Hall, Sinfield, McGuire, Leuluai, Burrow, Peacock, Ward, Delaney, Jones-Buchanan. Subs (all used): Kirke, McShane, Clarkson, Achurch.