Peter Smith – Leeds Rhinos’ next move crucial to help ensure long-term future is bright
ONLY TIME will tell if Leeds Rhinos’ shock decision to sack coach Dave Furner was the right one.
Even then, who is to say if Rhinos now do begin to find some form that would not have happened on Furner’s watch? Such is the nature of a result-based business like rugby league.
After a poor start to the season some fans had already begun to call for a change, but now the club will be criticised for a “panic move”.
Furner - who is a good and likeable man - was brought in on a three-year contract and is gone after just six months. That is very unlike Leeds.
The now ex-coach was Kevin Sinfield’s appointment. As Leeds’ director of rugby Sinfield was in a difficult situation, faced with either letting things continue as they were and hoping for the best, which would have been the easy option, or doing something drastic to bring about a change.
A friend and former team-mate of Furner, Sinfield has made what must have been a tough decision personally and professionally, but for Leeds to get out of their current mess something simply needed to change.
Players have come and gone since the start of the campaign to no great effect. When that happens pressure mounts on the team boss and he is usually the one to play the price.
At the time the appointment was made Furner seemed like the right man, having played for Leeds in the past and coached in Australia’s NRL, as well as gaining experience as an assistant at club and Test level.
In previous years he might have been given more time, but this season the team finishing bottom of Betfred Super League will be relegated without the safety net of the middle-eights Qualifiers.
Rhinos are third from bottom, two points ahead of London Broncos and with a better for and against than Hull KR. Both those teams look a bit worse than Leeds at the moment, but were they to hit some form Rhinos would be in trouble.
The situation is far too close for comfort and make no mistake, relegation would be an utter disaster for one of the biggest and most successful clubs in the game, especially at a time when they have a £45m rebuild of Emerald Headingley to pay for.
Results and performances have not improved since previous boss Brian McDermott was axed on July 2 last year and the latter have arguably got worse. It was always going to take time for Furner to turn things around, but by now - 15 games in - there should have been signs of consistent improvement and that has not happened.
Rhinos won five times under Furner, one of those victories being a Coral Challenge Cup tie against League One Workington and have yet to put an 80-minute performance together.
They have not managed back-to-back league wins and recent games have followed a similar pattern of a good, or at least not really bad, first half followed by collapse in the second.
It is far from all Furner’s fault. He has, of course, been let down by players who are better than results and league position suggests, but going further back, recruitment since the treble success in 2015 has, with some exceptions, been poor.
Things have been allowed to slide for too long and clearly Sinfield is not willing to let that continue. Unfortunately the current squad have not responded to Furner’s methods, technically or in terms of man-management and have looked a dispirited bunch at times.
So Furner has gone and, with apparently no replacement lined up, Richard Agar takes over as interim coach. He is experienced enough to provide some stability and has been popular with players at his previous clubs, Hull, Wakefield Trinity and Warrington Wolves.
His immediate priorities are to tighten up Leeds’ leaky defence, bring in some consistency - and most of all pick up enough wins to end Rhinos’ relegation worries
Agar has indicated he does not want a permanent coaching role so whatever happens over the next few weeks Sinfield and chief executive Gary Hetherington have a huge decision to make on the team’s long-term direction.
This time they have to get it right and with no obvious candidate waiting in the wings, that won’t be an easy task.