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I am a firm believer in the phrase “form is temporary, but class is permanent”, however even I must admit on many occasion over the last eight months my faith in this team has wavered somewhat.
As the season kicked off all the way back in February there was an air of cautious optimism from Leeds fans as, for the first time since 2007, the club were starting the season without the status as champions. The pressure was off, and there appeared to be a fresh start for all those involved.
After promises of an “exciting, innovative and creative style of play” from both Gary Hetherington and Brian McDermott, the season started with a game that would ultimately sum up our season. Trailing to Bradford 28-10 with less than a quarter of the game to play, we staged a remarkable fight back, leaving supporters salivating at the prospect of a right-hand side combination of Kallum Watkins, and hat-trick hero Ben Jones-Bishop. The positive start continued with a dominant performance at Hull FC, any optimism seemed suitably justified.
However, this was short-lived, as the coaches, players, and fans were brought back down to earth with a shock home defeat to McDermott’s former employers, Harlequins. An ever-increasing injury list, already including key players Danny McGuire and Jamie Peacock from the off-season, saw the team succumb to damaging defeats at the hands of Warrington and Saint Helens. When the champions Wigan arrived at Headingley on April fools’ day, only the most optimistic of fans were expecting a win, however, despite letting an eighteen point lead slip, it was a performance full of commitment and passion, albeit lacking that killer instinct. As Leeds led 22-4 the Southstand faithful could be heard singing “we want our trophy back”, wise words indeed!
Once more we failed to find any form of consistency, following up the promise of the Wigan game with a disappointing defeat at Hull KR, before Huddersfield achieved their first win at Headingley for over forty years with a 38-6 demolition. As things started to look bleak, the return of McGuire and Peacock coincided with the most complete showing of the year thus far, a 48-6 win at high-flying Castleford. One of my abiding memories of 2011 will be Peacock offloading to the supporting McGuire, who in turn raced away thirty metres to dot down next to the posts. It was just like the good old days. Meanwhile, a kind Challenge Cup draw led to the club progressing nicely on a run that would lead to a second consecutive Wembley appearance. The players had finely found some form, racking up six wins on the bounce.
Yet again the players ensured we could not get ahead of ourselves, embarrassing defeats at home to Warrington and away to Saint Helens, whilst a valiant performance in vein away at Wigan, meant the club were without a victory against any of the sides in the top four. This was compounded by a miserable display on a miserable night at home against a struggling Bradford team. Pressure was mounting on the coaching duo McDermott and Lowes, which only increased after a shocking display in the south of France. This game proved to be, by the players’ own admission, the turning point of the season. With the club and supporters facing the previously unthinkable situation of not making the play-offs, the players rallied, clearly deciding enough was enough. Embarking on a run of form that saw the team only lose two of thirteen games, confidence slowly returned, and after controversially losing to Wigan at Wembley, despite being the better side for sixty minutes, the players and fans alike appeared more than happy to take the tag of dark horses into the business end of the season.
That elusive win against a top four side finally came in the ultimate regular round of the season, away at Huddersfield, a feat which was repeated in the second round of the play-offs after victory in the first round at home to Hull FC. We were eighty minutes from yet another Old Trafford appearance, and despite all the criticism McDermott and Lowes had come under, it would be the second major final of the year they had taken us to. What followed was possibly one of the best games of rugby league for many a year, as Leeds’ big game players showed their big game experience. It was a mammoth team effort, encapsulated by one of the best individual performances I have witnessed by that of the departing Danny Buderus.
From the depths of darkness of the middle parts of the season, we now found ourselves at Old Trafford, taking on the oh too-familiar opponents Saint Helens. The season then ended as it started, with an enthralling game which at one point looked lost. Of all the grand final victories this appeared to be the sweetest for the players, evident in the celebration of the normally reserved and emotional Kevin Sinfield.
Massive credit has to be given to the players, coaching staff, and also Hetherington for sticking to their guns when all around them were calling for change. McDermott deserves plaudits for getting the best out of his players at the right time, whilst also developing exciting youngsters which can now establish themselves as mainstays in the team for years to come. Finally, I will never again write off this side, no matter how bleak things, as they have proved more than ever before that “form is temporary, class is permanent”.
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