Peter Smith: Long-term project frustrating Leeds Rhinos fans in the short term

Former Leeds Rhinos player Mitch Garbutt has been in fine form for Hull KR this season.
Former Leeds Rhinos player Mitch Garbutt has been in fine form for Hull KR this season.
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IT IS not often Leeds Rhinos get booed from the field as they were at half-time of last week’s 18-16 defeat by London Broncos.

Fans are becoming increasingly frustrated with a start to the campaign which has brought just one win from Rhinos’ opening seven Betfred Super League games.

Dave Furner and Kevin Sinfield.

Dave Furner and Kevin Sinfield.

The result against London raised a number of points, on social media and in conversations between fans, about where Leeds are going wrong and why – and what can be done to put it right.

Here’s a few of the most common and an assessment of how valid they are.

Rhinos should not be losing to teams like Wakefield and London.

Maybe not against a Broncos side made up mainly of the players who finished second in the Championship last year, but Super League is a salary-cap competition.

In theory at least, all clubs spend the same so nobody has the right to expect to beat anyone else. The current table may make grim reading for second-from-bottom Leeds and the team immediately above them, Wigan Warriors, but if, a competition is only as strong as its lowest clubs, then Super League isn’t in such a poor state.

Why doesn’t coach Dave Furner give young players a go?

There were three academy-qualified players in last week’s team. Jack Walker is the established first-choice full-back and centre Harry Newman got his chance following an injury to Kallum Watkins, but Tom Holroyd’s inclusion in place of Brad Singleton was a selection decision.

That was evidence Furner is prepared to hand youngsters a chance if he feels senior players aren’t doing their job. Rhinos have some very talented teenagers who are impressing at academy level.

It is a big step up to Super League and throwing too many into a struggling side wouldn’t be fair on them, but they will only gain experience by playing and, if things don’t improve, more of them could get a chance soon.

Rhinos’ recruitment has been poor and Furner and director of rugby Kevin Sinfield are to blame.

Yes and no. Certainly recruitment since the treble success in 2015 hasn’t been good enough, but Sinfield and Furner are newly in-post and can’t be blamed for that.

Sinfield has introduced a change of policy with big money being spent on two high-profile marquee signings. Konrad Hurrell and Trent Merrin have been two of Leeds’ better players this year, though the jury is out on the other recruits.

Mitch Garbutt’s form at Hull KR suggests letting him go was a mistake and Rhinos are trying to recruit another big man to their middle unit, but the salary cap restricts what they can do.

More players should have been cleared out from last year’s squad.

Including the on-loan Jordan Lilley, 11 players with a 2018 squad number are no longer at the club.

It is no secret Rhinos are willing to let others go, but that is determined by the length of their contract and if another club wants them.

It could be two or three years before Furner and Sinfield can assemble the squad they want.

Furner is under pressure.

It’s a result business and Rhinos are on the wrong end of them at the moment so yes it is in that respect, but he is a few months into a three-year contract and Rhinos rarely make panic decisions. Everyone at the club accepts this is the start of a long-term project.

There are clear signs of what Furner is trying to do in attack, but defence and discipline are two areas letting Leeds down. Once those problems are resolved, there are indications – such as against Salford and in spells at St Helens – Rhinos can become a quality team.

It’s all the refs’ fault.

Easy to blame them for poor results, but no.

Though Rhinos have had some tough calls this year, pointing a finger at the officials just detracts from the real issues. Rhinos need to focus on what they can control: defending better, dealing with kicks and competing for more than 20-minute spells.

It’s embarrassing being a Rhinos fan at the moment.

That’s the way the cookie crumbles. Would anyone swap one of the eight Grand Final victories for third or fourth place in the table right now? Of course not.