For most of this season it has been obvious Leeds Rhinos needed to make changes – and spend some money – to give themselves a chance of staying in Betfred Super League.
Changes have certainly been made over the last eight days with Kallum Watkins, Matt Parcell and Tui Lolohea – a combined total of 53 appearances this season – all moving on and Robert Lui, Shaun Lunt and Rhyse Martin coming in.
Of the team which played at tomorrow’s opponents Castleford Tigers on July 8 last year, in the first match since Kevin Sinfield returned to Leeds as director of rugby, seven have left and another has not played a Super League game this season.
James Lowes, first-team coach for the game at the Jungle last July, is also now occupying pastures new and Dave Furner has come and gone.
It has been a turbulent year with, so far, no positive effect. Leeds were eighth when McDermott was sacked and are ninth in the table now.
Despite some new faces on and off the field, until recently there was a feeling among fans the club did not recognise the seriousness of the situation and were prepared to meander along and hope for the best. That accusation can’t be levelled now. Three signings inside a week is almost unheard of for Rhinos and they have also appointed a part-time assistant-coach and a new head medic. It may smack of desperation, but these are desperate times.
This isn’t actually a sudden change of strategy, wheels have been turning behind the scenes for a while, but only now are things beginning to come to fruition. Salford’s wins over Wakefield Trinity and Castleford Tigers helped. Up to fifth in the table, they felt safe enough to let one of their key players, Lui, depart to Leeds, a team in a relegation battle.
Rhinos paid a fee, but were also able to off-load Lolohea in part-exchange, which freed up another place on the overseas quota and more salary cap room.
Lolohea’s absence might become an issue if Jack Walker continues to struggle with injury, but should events conspire to give Ashton Golding an opportunity at full-back that won’t be a bad thing.
Having not played in the opening 20 rounds, it’s clear he doesn’t feature in the Leeds management’s current plans, but he would add some enthusiasm to the team and certainly has a point to prove.
Allowing one of Rhinos’ main relegation rivals to sign Matt Parcell backfired a week ago when he was the star of Hull KR’s derby win over Hull which left Leeds bottom of the table.
Parcell needs to be a club’s first-choice hooker. He is a good player and was outstanding for Rhinos in 2017. He has fallen out of favour since then and was on the list of players they were prepared to part with last autumn, despite signing an extended contract only a few months earlier.
But he wasn’t swapped for Lunt. The main purpose of his exit was to open a quota spot and provide some cash to spend on Lui.
Lunt’s return, seven years after a loan spell during which he became a Grand Final winner, is a bonus for Leeds. Once fit he will be a handy player to have coming off the bench and there’s incentive for him to earn a contract after this season. Not much is known about Martin, the back-rower who arrived in Leeds yesterday, but Agar noticed him last year – when the now Leeds boss worked in Australia – and recommended him to the club in the off-season.
He is, apparently, an exciting attacking player and a specialist goal kicker. Where recent developments leave Liam Sutcliffe – a goal-kicking stand-off/second-row – remains to be seen, but extra competition for places can’t be a bad thing.
Leeds certainly looked better against Catalans Dragons last week, Lui seemed to inspire players around him – and bring out a fine performance from Richie Myler – and Sutcliffe had his best game for some time, also landing five goals from as many attempts including a pressure kick off the touchline.
Another interesting development is Featherstone Rovers boss Ryan Carr’s appointment as temporary, part-time assistant-coach.
It won’t please everyone, but Carr has done a fine job at Rovers, knows a lot of Leeds’ players and some fresh ideas will be welcome.