Why it’s time for Leeds Rhinos to deal with the unthinkable – Peter Smith

EARLIER THIS week, Betfred Super League held a media session to preview the Easter ‘rivals round’.

By Peter Smith
Thursday, 14th April 2022, 6:00 am
The return of Richie Myler within a couple of weeks is a “massive lift” for Leeds Rhinos. 
Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.
The return of Richie Myler within a couple of weeks is a “massive lift” for Leeds Rhinos. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.

The event was staged in the opulent surroundings of the directors’ suite at Headingley Stadium and the prospect of those facilities, which are the finest in the European game, not being available to the competition next year is almost unthinkable.

A couple of weeks ago, more than 14,000 fans turned up to watch Rhinos – second from bottom in the table and on a hiding to nothing – lose 26-0 to St Helens.

No other club would attract a crowd like that in such circumstances. And the interest in Rhinos extends far outside Leeds.

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Leeds Rhinos interim head coach Jamie Jones-Buchanan. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.

When Huddersfield Giants visit Headingley this evening, it will be Rhinos’ ninth competitive game of the season and the first which hasn’t been televised.

Rhinos are what Super League is all about, a big-city club that attracts vibrant crowds, is successful off the field and has a history of winning trophies.

Yet, with a quarter of the season gone, there is a real possibility instead of Wigan Warriors, Saints, Catalans Dragons and Hull visiting Headingley next year, it will be the likes of Halifax, Batley Bulldogs, Barrow Raiders and Newcastle Thunder.

Second from bottom and on the verge of equalling the worst start to a season in their history, Rhinos are in a real mess.

Leeds Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington. Picture: Michael Dodge/Getty Images.

The next block of games – against Huddersfield, Castleford Tigers, Toulouse Olympique, Hull KR, Salford Red Devils and Wakefield Trinity – is absolutely crucial.

Of those, only Giants and Huddersfield are currently in Super League’s top-six and, if Leeds can string a few wins together, they will be right back in the mix.

But continuing their run of defeats would be calamitous and, so far, there has been little sign of improvement.

A gap of two weeks between games has come at a good time.

Leeds haven’t played since the Saints game, giving interim-coach Jamie Jones-Buchanan valuable time to get his message across.

The break has also been an opportunity for players to recover from various bumps and bruises and Leeds should be relatively fresh going into the Easter period when they face three games in nine days.

The prospect of David Fusitu’a, Richie Myler and Tom Holroyd all returning to action in the next few weeks is cause for some optimism.

Myler has been missed badly, but has a chance of being available for the Hull KR game in 15 days’ time.

That would give Rhinos a massive lift. If Rhinos can win tonight, when they could have four players returning to their 17, and in four days’ time, that would take some pressure off the game against Toulouse, at the moment the only team below them in the table, a week tomorrow.

Toulouse aren’t a particularly good side and have found the going tough this year, but they probably will win some games at home, especially in mid-summer when the heat in the south of France heat will be difficult for visiting teams to cope with.

And should Toulouse pick up an unexpected victory or two before then, Leeds – if their own form doesn’t improve – will be even deeper in the mire.

So, with three-quarters of the season still to play, every game is already a big one and it is time Rhinos stood up to be counted.

This is not a poor Leeds team, but it is under-performing to an extent not seen from a Rhinos team in the summer era.

Injuries and suspension have played a part but, if coach Richard Agar was a problem, his exit hasn’t, so far, had any positive effect.

Chief executive Gary Hetherington has to make the right decision when he appoints a new team boss, but this is Rhinos’ fourth relegation battle in seven seasons – under five different interim- or head-coaches – so it would seem problems run much deeper.

If Leeds do get out of trouble, the time will be right for a detailed review of the entire operation, because neither club nor competition can afford this to keep happening.