Most supporters realise in a salary cap sport – Wiganers apart – their club cannot continue to lift the trophy at Old Trafford ad infinitum. The question that many ask - is this the continuation of a gradual slide back to years of under achievement or a small blip before the club can assemble a side capable of challenging for the ultimate prize?
All clubs are made up of various pieces of a jigsaw – each has an important part to play that cannot be overlooked in any review.
You would have to be very uncharitable not to recognise the huge debt the club owes to its current management. The latest investment can be seen by a quick glance at the corner of the Western Terrace. Gary Hetherington’s financial vigilance has to be applauded; in a sector where virtually every participant is running at a deficit the Rhinos are in rude monetary health.
Gary in response to falling season ticket sales was to suggest the fans needed a more attractive style of play - not an unreasonable suggestion. His coaching plans took an early hit with McClennan deciding he had achieved all he could and returned home a year early. Leaving McDermott in the spotlight to follow his leader’s instructions. To help things along Gary re-signed a batch of ageing players and augmented the squad with a couple of very baffling additions.
Supporters want to blame the players and coaches for what seems an alarming fall from grace. As the person responsible for the hiring and firing the boss cannot entirely escape blame.
Many on the board have seen the coach as the sole focus of their frustration. He was expecting a year as assistant but suddenly found himself in the hot seat - this also limited his choice of assistant coaches. McDermott inherited an ageing squad missing two of its best players for a good third of the season. Injuries have been severe and long term in many cases. He remains stoical – even after the vote of confidence – in adversity. This quality should be admired especially when compared to the ranting of some other first grade coaches. McDermott is a quality coach doing his very best in challenging circumstances.
The players, they have to do it on the pitch and they should take the major responsibility for the current situation. Yes they are being asked to play a slightly different style but surely they should still be able to pass, catch, tackle and observe the laws of the game – these are full time elite players.
What is worrying is how easily teams like Warrington and Huddersfield were able to despatch them and how large the losing gaps were. It is a long time since I went to a game at Headingley not expecting the Rhinos to win – even against the top sides. Now I expect defeat, there is something quite tragic for a once dominant side; who try as they might are no longer a match for their younger more organised opponents. The team seem to lack genuine pace and power so they can no longer go round sides as they used to. The offloading game is still there albeit more in panic than in structured attacking play. Issues of indiscipline continue to plague the side – they are no longer good enough to give away hundreds of cheap metres and still end up victorious. The Rhinos inability to compete with the better sides must be a worry, however a side with less injuries may be more competitive.
On the positive McShane, Watkins and Clarkson have shown there is some life in the youth system at Leeds. Sinfield has done his very best to drag some of his teammates beyond the abysmal. No one can fault the efforts of Hall, Buderus, JJB, Kylie and Ablett. Of the rest Senior looks over the hill against the better sides, Bailey and Smith seldom play, Ali never plays and the less said about Kirke, Hauraki and Cross the better.
The return of Peacock can only be a positive as can the inclusion of McGuire if he can get fit. The rhinos have a host of players returning at the business end of the season. This will help to freshen up the squad. If the side is to progress then the form of Rob Burrow is crucial, he needs greater involvement and freedom. At his best he is amongst the most potent attacking halves in Super League. A top four finish at the best – in the play offs who knows. Fingers crossed for an easy draw and another visit to Wembley.