Written by Callum Walker
Photo by Photo Leeds Rhinos
A side devoid of ideas, skill and quality, Leeds Rhinos are currently languishing near the bottom of Super League. An 8-30 defeat to local rivals Castleford Tigers on Thursday night highlighted just how in trouble the West Yorkshire club are.
Head coach Dave Furner was sacked after just four wins in 14 games and Richard Agar – initially employed as Furner’s assistant – has lost his first two games in charge. His first loss against Championship side Bradford in the Challenge Cup was pure humiliation for a Leeds club used to challenging for silverware, whilst his second loss against Castleford was an embarrassment.
Chief executive Gary Hetherington has invested heavily in recent years. Pumping money into the stadium has made Headingley into, arguably, the greatest arena in Super League whilst the recruitment of two marquee signings – Konrad Hurrell and Trent Merrin in the off-season – has seen Leeds spend more money than ever on their playing squad.
But all this has backfired. Director of Rugby Kevin Sinfield appears out of his depth in such a challenging role. A hero on the field does not necessarily make a hero off it and his lack of experience for the position is not exactly conducive to a club trying to somehow claw their way back up the table.
In 1996, the Rhinos finished third bottom of Super League with just Oldham and Paris below them. In 2016 and 2018 they finished fourth bottom, but 2019 could well see Leeds in trouble of being sensationally relegated. Currently on eight points, they are still four shy of their tally in 1996 and eight and ten shy of their points tally in 2016 and 2018 respectively.
This kind of capitulation has been brewing for a number of years. The class of 2015 – the superb treble winners – has died a sudden death with the likes of Jamie Peacock, Kylie Leuluai, Sinfield himself, Danny McGuire, Ryan Hall, Joel Moon and Rob Burrow all having moved on in recent years.
That kind of quality leaving the club takes some getting over and, simply put, the Rhinos have been unable to find adequate replacements. Liam Sutcliffe, Jordan Lilley, Ash Handley, Ashton Golding and Josh Walters are just some of the players that have failed to live up to the hype of the previous ‘golden generation’ and Leeds are now paying for the lack of, what was once, a superior youth system.
Leeds are flirting with relegation in 2019 and their fixture against London at the Magic Weekend is a relegation four-pointer. Few Leeds fans would have predicted that at the beginning of 2019 after a large investment in the playing roster.
And, it will take someone far more impressive than Richard Agar to get the Rhinos back where their fans believe they should be. At both Hull FC and Wakefield Trinity, Agar ended his time with less than a 50% win percentage with both sets of fans eager to see him go.
Leeds are currently in a crisis, but the solution seems a very long way away. Whilst Headingley is now a champion stadium, the team is as far away from that as possible.
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