Peter Smith: Even if Mac turns it round again – Leeds need some fresh blood

Leeds Rhinos head coach Brian McDermott chats to chief executive Gary Hetherington.
Leeds Rhinos head coach Brian McDermott chats to chief executive Gary Hetherington.
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INTERVIEWED FOR Monday’s Yorkshire Evening Post, forward Brett Ferres denied Leeds Rhinos are in a crisis.

If social media is anything to go by, fans feel differently.

Brian McDermott.

Brian McDermott.

The facts are Rhinos have lost their last four Betfred Super League games and won only three of 11 since the shock victory at leaders St Helens three months ago.

They have been ravaged by injuries this year, particularly in the pack and last Friday’s home defeat by Huddersfield Giants left them seventh in the table, just three points ahead of ninth-placed Catalans Dragons.

The two teams immediately below them, Huddersfield and Catalans, meet at John Smith’s Stadium tomorrow, when Leeds have a daunting home games against Saints.

Catalans visit Headingley in six days’ time and that rare Wednesday night game – rearranged from the big freeze in March – is huge for Rhinos in what has become a battle against relegation.

This is McDermott’s eighth season as coach and, in his profession, that is a long time. There comes a stage when every coach needs a new challenge and players require a different voice and fresh approach.

Peter Smith

There is now a real chance Leeds could, for the second time in three seasons, be dragged into the bottom-four when the competition splits after 23 rounds.

The Qualifiers, likely to include Toronto Wolfpack, Toulouse Olympique and possibly Leigh Centurions, will be much tougher this year than in 2016.

Then Rhinos’ form was beginning to improve as they went into the middle-eights and players were returning, but the opposite is true now.

So these are tough times for Super League’s most successful club and current defending champions and on social media at least, the pressure is back on coach Brian McDermott.

He has never really won the hearts of Leeds’ fans and many supporters believe the time is right for a change, either now or at the end of this season.

This is McDermott’s eighth season as coach and, in his profession, that is a long time. There comes a stage when every coach needs a new challenge and players require a different voice and fresh approach.

Recent results suggest Leeds have reached that point, but here’s the thing. McDermott has been written off many times before – in 2011, 2012, 2013, at the end of 2014, all the way through 2016 and during the early stages of last year – and on every single occasion he has turned things around.

Leeds were champions from fifth place in 2011 and 2012, won the Challenge Cup in 2014, the treble the following year and staged one of sport’s greatest revivals last term when they triumphed at Old Trafford.

That makes it very difficult to say McDermott is finished. His critics will argue he had special players in his squad in past years, the likes of Kevin Sinfield, Jamie Peacock, Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow. That is true, but if you credit only the players when things go well, it is unfair and hypocritical to blame the coach if they don’t.

McDermott is the most successful team boss in Leeds’ history and while league form throughout his time in charge has been inconsistent, he has always come up trumps when it matters and his record in big games is outstanding.

As bad as things are at the moment, Rhinos are only two wins away from lifting the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup. That seems unlikely now, but if they get players back and find some form over the next few weeks, it’s not impossible.

As much as recent form, lack of activity in the transfer market is worrying supporters. They have seen rivals strengthen while Leeds have yet to announce any changes to their squad for 2019.

Warrington Wolves have signed Australian forward Jason Clark and English second-rower Joe Greenwood has joined Wigan Warriors. Both those players were linked with Rhinos.

Keith Galloway, who retired earlier this year, has not been replaced and there is a feeling Leeds are being left behind. The squad does need strengthening, but it’s too early to panic.

It has been a while since Leeds brought in a big-name recruit, but Rhinos don’t conduct their business in public, unfortunately, and just because nothing has been announced that doesn’t mean nothing’s happening.

Chief executive Gary Hetherington has overseen the most successful era in the club’s history and deserves benefit of the doubt. If nothing has been done by the end of the season, then questions will need to be asked.