Pressure on Leeds Rhinos to remain top dogs, says Super League’s Blake Solly

Leeds Rhinos captain Kevin Sinfield lifts the trophy after winning the First Utility Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford.
Leeds Rhinos captain Kevin Sinfield lifts the trophy after winning the First Utility Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford.
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SUPER LEAGUE boss Blake Solly believes rival clubs will see champions Leeds Rhinos as potentially vulnerable in 2016.

The competition’s general manager admits Rhinos’ treble-winning feat this year was “phenomenal” and they have clearly now set the bar high for the rest.

Super League general manager Blake Solly.

Super League general manager Blake Solly.

But Solly also feels the switch of captain Kevin Sinfield to Yorkshire Carnegie and loss of retired props Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai will leave opponents believing they can topple them in the new campaign.

“Leeds winning the treble was a great story but they are rebuilding now having lost three club legends,” he said.

“I’m sure a lot of other clubs will look at their situation and think they can kick them off their perch in 2016.

“Leeds will think otherwise but it should be fascinating to see how that pans out.”

Solly admits Leeds have done wonders for raising awareness of rugby league in 2015, especially recently with Sinfield’s historic shortlisting for BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year.

“The Rhinos have been great for the sport’s profile this year,” he added.

“The fact Kevin Sinfield has become the first rugby league player to be nominated for the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year is not only huge for the sport but shows just how good this season has been. In terms of improving its national profile that is excellent and it’s great, too, that Brian McDermott was named Coach of the Year at the 2015 UK Coaching Awards.

“Leeds have been phenomenal in 2015 as teams winning the treble does not happen very often but it is down to a lot of hard work by the club and the support over the last 12 months.”

It has been a significant year, too, for Solly as he had put his neck on the line launching the bold “New Era” format to Super League and the Championships.

The system, with its convoluted manner of sorting promotion and relegation, initially caused much consternation but the Super 8s certainly brought plenty of drama and the season as a whole has been one of the most intriguing for some time.

Leeds winning the League Leaders’ Shield at Huddersfield with Ryan Hall’s famous try in the very last seconds of the last night of Super 8s action is a case in point, while their Old Trafford success over Wigan Warriors was lauded as one of the finest Grand Finals yet.

Solly said: “I think 12 months ago we’d have all very much settled for what’s happened this year. We’ve had a great sell-out Grand Final, saw England win a series against New Zealand and action and drama aplenty from the first kick-off in February to what happened at Old Trafford.

“But there is still lots to build on. I don’t think we should think 2015 was so good that we won’t see its like again.”

Solly concedes Super League did fail in one of their targets.

“We wanted 10 sell-out games but only managed five including England v New Zealand at Wigan,” he said. “That was probably the only disappointment for us this year but if we can learn from that – and I think we will – there’s no reason why we can’t get to 10 in 2016.”