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Over the weekend Iíve been pondering whether Gary Hetherington has taken our club as far as he possibly can. Heís been somewhat and rightfully immune from criticism in recent years thanks to all the success that he helped bring to the club in the 2007, 2008 and 2009. Despite winning three grand finals in a row during those three years, many have noticed that since 2007 this Leeds team have seemed to have declined in playing standards during the regular season.
Recently in the press it has been stated that Gary Hetherington wants to bring 'exciting' rugby league back to Headingley for the 2011 Super League Season. The irony in all this is that exciting rugby league hasnít been totally absent these last few seasons. In fact I saw some of the best Rugby League played in my lifetime at Headingley during Brian McClennanís term as head coach. Games such as the ones prior to the 2008 World club challenge, all games against St Helens, along with the 2009 playoff semi-final against Catalan Dragons come immediately to mind. But the biggest joy of all was last yearís challenge cup run before it came to an end in the final. However, thereís no doubt that these so called exciting games have been far and few between thanks to the length of the super league season and the quality of some of the teams playing.
So I asked myself, have Leeds declined over the years, or has everyone else simply caught up? It just seems to me that since the 2004 Grand Final and 2005 World Club Challenge wins we've been declining. After all weíd won them all and surely we could only go on to win more! We should have gone onto do better things later on in 2005, but we were stopped both in the challenge cup, and later on by a salary cap cheating Bradford side in the Grand Final. In 2006 more disappointment came our way and I think thatís thanks to the team not been able to get over how it was cheated in 2005.
2007 was not all that much of a great season thanks to many disappointments of 2006 still lingering in the mind of many fans. However, the big difference between 2006 and 2007 was no doubt in how we played against St Helens. We completed a tremendous double over them in the regular season along with beating them in the Grand Final at the end of the year which was described as the clubs greatest performance by club president Harry Jepson OBE. Tony Smith said on the night that he has now turned Leeds Rhinos into a matured championship winning team and he was right.
2008 saw Tony Smith depart Leeds Rhinos to be replaced by Brian McClennan. In his first season at the club Brian McClennan became the first coach in super league history to win a world club challenge and a super league grand final in the first season. In his second season he made Leeds the first super league club in the Superleague era achieve three back to back-to-back grand final victories. So I return to the question of whenever Leeds have declined over the years, or have Leeds stayed pretty much the same team since 2004 and everyone has caught up?
Iím personally going to go with a Rhinos declined which has allowed the other sides to catch us up. This is not the same Leeds Rhinos team that we saw during 2004 and most of 2005 when we were innocent from any wrong doing by Bradford. I think that Tony Smith did an excellent job to turn things around in 2007 and that Brian McClennan did an even greater job two years after. Gary Hetherington got those three years spot on, and his faith in Tony Smith was well founded. I can even forgive Gary for letting Bluey stay on throughout 2010.
But in with Brian McDermott for 2011 I feel he has opted for blind faith rather than realisism. When Tony Smiths position became vacant half way through 2007, Gary has since revealed that he made a list of coaches that he wanted to hear from. If you made a wish list of coaches that you wanted to come to your club then Iím sure that Brian McDermott would have figured as a name on very few of them. His decision to appoint Brian McDermott was met with optimism from the fans. But already it is turning very sour indeed this season.
I donít think that itís all down the coaches. Danny Buderus was no doubt a glamour signing for Leeds and a signing that we didnít need thanks to efforts put in by Matt Diskin over the years for Leeds. At this rate itís looking like Danny Buderus wonít win a thing at Leeds, unlike the number nine who he replaced. Common sense was certainly replaced by blind faith with that signing. Heís only one of two bad signings I can think of though, with the other been Greg Eastwood. Thatís two so called stars that came over here with a big reputation and have failed to win anything for Leeds. However, Iíve always been a fan of Brett Delaney so please donít accuse me of having a local team for local players agenda. I just think that weíve signed the two players Iíve mentioned because we can and not because we needed them. We did so much better without them.
I want to finish this weekís bit by asking Gary Hetherington to cut his losses with Brian McDermott (because it isnít working) and bring in Brian Noble for one season. Then weíll have a chance of winning the Grand Final. Then in 2012 replace Noble with an Australian that can genuinely improve this group of players for the first time since Tony Smith came to the club. For far too long we have lived off Tony Smiths legacy (Even Bluey admitted so) and now thatís running dry. If this doesnít happen then this is neglect on your behalf. Gary Hetherington, youíve had a good run with the club so far, donít let yourself down now.
Thanks to everyone for reading.