Peter Smith: Leeds Rhinos and Kevin Sinfield can’t afford to get it wrong again on head coach
IT IS a month since Dave Furner was sacked as Leeds Rhinos coach and we still don’t know who the next boss will be.
Richard Agar has been filling in on an interim basis, but does not want the role long term. The ex-Hull and Wakefield Trinity chief joined Rhinos in the off-season as head of player and coach development and is keen to return to that.
But Agar is understood to have been asked to stay on until the end of this season as Rhinos seek some continuity following a period of turmoil behind the scenes.
Long-serving boss Brian McDermott was sacked last July, James Lowes – alongside Kevin Sinfield – took over for the rest of the campaign and then Furner joined the club in November, making Agar the fourth team boss in less than a year. That is a lot of chopping and changing.
Before McDermott, only Dean Bell (1996-97), Graham Murray (1998-99), Dean Lance (2000-2001), Daryl Powell (2001-2003), Tony Smith (2004-2007) and Brian McLennan (2008-2010) had coached Leeds in Super League.
At the time Furner was axed, Sinfield – Leeds’ director of rugby – made it clear he was in no hurry to bring in a permanent appointment, preferring stability in the short term. It is Sinfield’s call to decide who takes charge on a ‘permanent’ basis and he is believed to favour an appointment from Super League, having recruited Furner from the NRL where he was assistant-coach at South Sydney Rabbitohs.
In that case, there are several possible candidates. Among the early bookies’ favourites was Richard Marshall, who did an excellent job as coach of Halifax before being sacked in April. He has been an assistant in Super League, with Warrington, but a lack of experience at the top level makes him an unlikely contender to become head coach at Leeds. He may, however, be in their sights as a possible assistant, depending on who does take over.
Ian Watson and former Rhinos player Danny Ward have impressed on limited resources at Salford Red Devils and London Broncos respectively, but Leeds is a much bigger club and the spotlight is far brighter. Though both will be chased by higher-profile clubs if they continue their development, Leeds are probably looking for someone with a proven track record further up the ladder.
Which, if it is to be an appointment from Super League, whittles the field down to Shaun Wane and Daryl Powell. Wane has been working part-time in Scottish rugby union since leaving Wigan Warriors last autumn, but has confirmed he would be interested in the Leeds job, having played there in the 1990s.
A proven winner with an outstanding record, he is the sort of no-nonsense character Rhinos seem to need. Furner’s departure was not just because of poor results, there were also allegedly concerns about communication with players and staff and it seems his relationship with Sinfield had broken down.
Despite that, a source close to Wane has told the Yorkshire Evening Post he would be prepared to work with a director of rugby – as he did at Wigan – and both likes and admires Sinfield. But, if Wane was in the frame, surely he would have been appointed by now. The delay suggests Leeds are looking at somebody already in a full-time role, which would point to Powell. He has been in charge of Castleford Tigers since 2013 and there comes a time when every coach – and club – needs a change. Could Powell and Tigers be reaching that point? They have lost eight of their last 12 Super League games and are a long way behind St Helens on current form, but injuries have played a large part in that.
Powell knows and understands what makes the Leeds club tick, favours an attacking style of rugby which would delight Rhinos’ fans and has proved he can turn a struggling team around. However, he has consistently insisted he is happy at Castleford and wants to continue there, which isn’t exactly ‘come and get me’.
Powell might be the man to put 50p on, though he has urged punters not to, but the situation remains up in the air and, after the Furner appointment turned sour, Sinfield can’t be blamed for taking his time.
He and the club can’t afford to get it wrong again.