Peter Smith: Panic is, perhaps, premature – but Leeds Rhinos are in trouble

Catalans could soon be boosted by the signing of Sam Kasiano.Catalans could soon be boosted by the signing of Sam Kasiano.
Catalans could soon be boosted by the signing of Sam Kasiano.
THE PROBLEM with committing any opinion or observation to print is it will almost certainly be contradicted by the facts immediately afterwards.

When Leeds Rhinos crushed Salford Red Devils 46-14 almost a month ago, the Yorkshire Evening Post’s match report suggested doubts surrounding the new-look team had been “obliterated”.

Five days later Leeds showed “real promise” in a 27-22 defeat at St Helens, which came after they had hit back from 10-0 down to lead by 12 points at half-time.

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That confidence has been eroded by two poor performances in heavy defeats by Wakefield Trinity and Hull and, if Rhinos lose at home to London Broncos tomorrow, the R word (relegation) will be in the air.

Kevin Sinfield with Dave Furner.Kevin Sinfield with Dave Furner.
Kevin Sinfield with Dave Furner.

That may sound alarmist, but the clash with London is Rhinos’ seventh game in a 29-round league season. After that they visit Catalans Dragons – where they have a poor recent record, who will be smarting from home drubbing by Salford and could unveil new big-name recruit Sam Kasiano – before a short turnaround to a home derby with Castleford Tigers.

It would take an optimistic punter to bet on Leeds winning either of those two so, if it doesn’t happen tomorrow, it is difficult to see where Rhinos’ next win is coming from.

If Leeds don’t finish above London – and defeat on Friday would leave them four points adrift – who will they overhaul?

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Maybe Huddersfield Giants, but their win at Wigan Warriors last week was a positive sign from them.

Wigan are struggling themselves, but have quality across the board and will probably be able to borrow some points from somewhere else if they need them. Hull KR are finding it tough, but showed great resolve in their gritty win at Wakefield Trinity last week and Hull, following 13 successive defeats, seem to be hitting their straps.

Catalans will be inconsistent, but home form – last week apart – and big-name players should keep them safe and the rest already look too far ahead and too good to have any real worries. For most of the time against both Wakefield and Hull, Leeds appeared to be a rudderless ship, lacking passion and confidence.

These are tough days for a club and fanbase who have been accustomed to success in recent years, though this is shaping up to be the third poor season out of the last four.

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So is it time to panic? Be very concerned, yes, but panic, no. Recent events, at both Leeds and Hull, have highlighted how quickly things can change. Rhinos have one big issue in their performances at the moment – they can’t defend.

Leeds have conceded more points than anyone else in Betfred Super League, though they have played one game more than most of their rivals.

Some of the tries Rhinos have conceded – most notably Kyle Wood’s for Wakefield – have been embarrassingly soft. They aren’t necessarily being beaten by smart play, but when big or quick men run at them, they fall away.

Silly penalties are compounding that, but those are things that can be fixed and if – or hopefully when – they are, Leeds will win games ... because they can attack.

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They were blisteringly good in spells at both Salford and Saints and started well against Wakefield and Hull. They need to toughen up when things go wrong, but a win tomorrow would push them up the table and one victory could well begin a run of success.

It didn’t happen after the Salford game, but had Leeds held on against Saints – and they weren’t far off – they would be in a far better position now.

Though they have brought players in and let others go, this isn’t coach Dave Furner’s or director of rugby Kevin Sinfield’s squad yet.

Players are on long-term contracts from the previous management and that limits the number of changes possible.

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Rhinos are looking to bring new faces in, but the salary cap restricts that, as does availability of players who are good enough – and other clubs won’t go out of their way to help Leeds.

As Sinfield said in yesterday’s Evening Post, these are early stages of a long-term process.

Leeds were always likely to start slowly, though probably not as badly as they have and there is still time to turn things around this year.