Last year, Rhinos recovered to finish fifth and reach the play-off semi-finals, but their situation is more worrying now than at the same stage in 2021.
Injuries and the lack of a settled half-back pairing were the root cause of last season’s poor start, but Rhinos don’t have the same excuses this time.
True, they have been without some influential players, because of suspensions and injuries, but Rhinos supposedly strengthened their squad since the end of last term.
Having apparently had a problem-free pre-season, Leeds went into the campaign on a tide of optimism, but that has evaporated following a run of inexplicably poor performances, culminating in last Thursday’s 31-8 home drubbing by Hull FC.
That was a Hull side missing more senior players than Leeds and without either of their first-choice half-backs.
For the second-successive home game, Rhinos were booed off the field, so what’s going wrong?
That’s simple; Leeds aren’t playing well.
Why not is more complicated and even coach Richard Agar has admitted he is “struggling to get my head around” how things have gone so wrong.
Some issues are clear. Though Rhinos have a settled half-back combination, the three-quarters aren’t getting enough quality ball and the pack struggles to go forward.
With Tom Holroyd on the injury list, they’ve been playing with three props in their 17, sometimes all of them starting – and one of those, Matt Prior, is suspended for this weekend.
Rhinos opted to complete the overseas quota with a winger, David Fusitu’a, and second-rowers are having to fill in. Too often when Leeds make changes, the intensity drops.
Rhinos, who aren’t alone in this, can’t keep 13 players on the field and, once things go wrong, there seems to be little idea how to turn them around.
Attitude appears to be the biggest problem and that is much harder to fix than technical issues.
At the moment, as a team Leeds are much less than the sum of their parts.
Having played well for only a game and a half this year, Rhinos travel to Salford Red Devils, a team they usually beat, on Friday and the next two league games after that are at home to the current top two of St Helens and Huddersfield Giants. The season can yet be saved.
Rhinos could respond positively, get their attitude right and play the way such a talented squad is capable of, in which case they are still capable of pushing for a place in the top four.
But they won’t win any games playing like they did last week and defeat in three days’ time might well prove a tipping point, either for Agar himself – as the buck stops with the coach – or Rhinos’ board, who would feel compelled to act if fans begin voting with their feet.