SUPER LEAGUE’S most successful and best-supported club is in crisis.
Leeds Rhinos’ fall from grace has been sudden and spectacular – from treble winners in 2015 to a regular bottom-four side now.
If they lose to London Broncos at the Magic Weekend in Liverpool on Sunday, Rhinos will be on the brink of relegation from Betfred Super League, just two years after they won their eighth Grand Final in 14 seasons.
So what do some club legends – trophy winners as part of the golden generation – believe has gone wrong and how can it be fixed?
For Matt Diskin, man of the match in the 2004 Old Trafford victory, the decline has been cultural.
“I think it is a club that has lost sight of the core values it was built on,” said the former hooker. “It was built on success and the generation coming through being hardworking, honest, good people.
This club is his life and I know he will work harder than anybody else to solve the problems and issues that are there. I have got complete faith in Kevin and the people around him – now and in the future – to bring us out of this slump.Barrie McDermott
“I think it needs to start from the ground up – from the scholarship to the top end.
“But that is going to be a three-to-five-year fix, not a three-to-five-month one which is needed at the moment.”
So, does Diskin believe Rhinos could be in the Championship – against the Batley Bulldogs side he coaches – next year?
He said: “It sounds bizarre to talk about Leeds being in a relegation battle, but if they don’t get the points this week they will be in the mix.”
Barrie McDermott, a stalwart of Rhinos’ pack for a decade and now a Sky TV pundit, believes director of rugby Kevin Sinfield is the right man to fix things up.
“He is the most reliable and successful player in the club’s history,” said McDermott, who stood among the Leeds fans to watch the embarrassing Coral Challenge Cup defeat at Bradford Bulls earlier this month.
“He is starting to be questioned, but I have worked with him and I know he is feeling this as much as anybody in the South Stand or sat in the North Stand.
“This club is his life and I know he will work harder than anybody else to solve the problems and issues that are there.
“I have got complete faith in Kevin and the people around him – now and in the future – to bring us out of this slump.”
Sinfield’s priority now is to find a new head coach to succeed Dave Furner who was sacked two weeks ago.
McDermott has his own ideas about who that should be.
“I would have Daryl Powell and Ryan Sheridan,” said the former front-rower who played alongside the Castleford coaching duo at Leeds two decades ago.
“I can see why Daryl wants to stay at Cas – it’s his hometown club and he has a burning ambition to win trophies there, but he has all the attributes.
“He makes good players better and average players into good players and he makes the most of what he has got. He would be my first choice.”
Francis Cummins scored 188 tries for Leeds from 1993-2004 and then had a spell on the coaching staff. He experienced similar tough times when in charge of Widnes Vikings last year and feels effort holds the key to Rhinos turning things around.
“It was terrible against Bradford, but I thought they showed a bit more commitment against Cas, which has to be a baseline,” said Cummins who feels the experience being gained by some young players is one positive for Leeds.
“I think, up to a point, most supporters can appreciate people doing their best. The players have said it themselves, they have not performed.
“They were out-enthused against Bradford, which is a bitter pill, but the foundation is to work hard, not give much away and put your game plan into action. They scrambled better for spells against Cas and they celebrated every win and that’s where it starts.”
One of Super League’s greatest centres, Keith Senior, admits to fearing for his old club. He said: “It is getting to the stage now where I am actually worried. A month ago I would have said ‘don’t worry, they will be all right’, but the hole seems to be getting deeper. With the players they’ve got, they shouldn’t be in that situation.”
The four-time Grand Final winner – now assistant-coach at Sheffield Eagles – said it is difficult to comment on the team’s structure or gameplans without knowing the coach’s instructions, but added: “In some respects the effort’s there, but it is all individual effort.
“There’s no cohesion or understanding, they are not working as a team. To be fair, that takes time, but there’s a lot of players in that team who have played together long enough to have a better understanding.”
Senior also believes recent recruitment, since 2015, has not been good enough.
He added: “I think Gary [Hetherington, Rhinos’ chief executive] needs to put his hand up and say he has got to take some responsibility for that.”