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Stronger or Weaker?
Posted by southstander on January 03 2006 - 11:59:37

Will be Missed

Gary Hetherington's announcement that the vacant Rhinos Number five shirt will 'probably' be filled from within the ranks, will come as a bitter disappointment to many fans.

The allowed departure of both Marcus Bai and last seasons Superleague top try scorer, Mark Calderwood, may signal that the Hetherington bubble has burst. A glance up the usually burgeoning Hetherington sleeve, shows it to be alarmingly empty.

Hopes of the signature of a world class winger have come-and-gone and it now looks as though we'll have to stick with those currently on the books.

But how much stronger/weaker are we for 2006?

The Rhinos have made just one outstanding signing for 2006, that of ex-tormentor in chief Jamie Peacock. He is a more than adequate replacement for either Chris McKenna (in the second row) or Barrie McDermott (at prop forward) wherever you'd prefer to play him. He is undoubtedly class, and Gary Hetherington must be congratulated for enticing him to Headingley.

The lack of other class singings make you wonder if he may have been duped into putting pen to paper, as he has been joined by Scott Donald (a poor imitation of Mark Calderwood on first sight), Shane Millard (who put up a decent show on Boxing Day), Mark O'Neill (who lasted just four minutes of his Blue & Amber debut, and may miss a big chunk of the season), and Nathan McAvoy (less said the better!).

If these players had been incoming to replace a couple of retirements (McDermott and Cummins) then I wouldn't have been too worried, but the alarming number of depatures from last seasons 'trophyless' side, leaves me thinking that we look considerably weaker on paper than we were at the start of 2005. Out go; McDermott, McKenna, Bai, Calderwood, McDonald, Botham, Dunemann and Cummins, whilst we get Feather back from Wakefield Wildcats and promote a number of players from inside the club.

Looking through the side, I think that we are looking pretty solid in the pack in comparison to last year. McDonald showed that he didn't fit in to the Rhinos game plan, and McDermott, despite having a good season, was showing the signs of fifteen years at the top of the game. Feather needs to prove himself this year, and with Peacock playing at prop, we've got the four props that we need week-in-week-out. We just need to avoid the injuries that would see us using JJB and Scruton in the front row. We've an embarrassment of second rowers with JJB, Willie, Ali, Gareth Ellis, Shane Millard and Chev. Millard can cover for Matt Diskin at Hooker or even share loose forward duties with Kev, Gareth and Willie.

In the halves we have Danny, Rob and Kev (as needed).

It is the backs where I have my concerns. We have just one winger in the current twenty in Scott Donald, and he did a good imitation of a turnstile during the boxing day game. The other wing will be filled by Lee Smith, Ashley Gibson (at a push) or Danny Williams, these lads need to be brought through but getting the number five shirt is a lot of pressure on them. In the centres we have just Keith and Chev with no cover. Any injury will see the likes of Gareth Ellis or Ashley Gibson covering. That might be okay for a couple of games, but not for long runs.

We also have no cover at full-back with Richie Mathers being our only option. Lee Smith could again cover, but this will mean that another of the youngsters would have to play on the wing, we'd only want to do this against sides in the bottom half of the table.

I think that we look considerably weaker than last year, particularly down the wings. We've bulked the pack, something that we were missing last season, and should compete with most sides in the middle of the park. Donald will find the try-line, as will Chev and Keith, but I also think that we'll ship-in tries down the wings.

Forget last seasons nillings and sixty+ tallies. This year we'll be back with the pack and scrapping for every point. It might make for a far more exciting season.

Following the sale of the Cricket Ground, we've got a whole heap of cash in the Leeds Rugby coffers. With the Tykes looking doomed to relegation, it makes sense to invest the money on the Rhinos side, as well as the much needed ground improvements. We are now, by far, the wealthiest club in the game, thanks to Hetheringtons shrewd management, but now is the time to spend some of it and bring the stars into Headingley.

One last thought. The last time we all felt that we had a transitional side with 'no-hope', we went and won the Grand Final and Minor Premiership. Only time will tell whether we are realists or pessimists, so all we can do is cross everything that Gary and Tony know what they are doing!

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