Written by Callum Walker
Photo by Leeds Rhinos
In the two games Leeds have played in 2019, they have been disappointing.
Despite rebuilding heavily with a new head coach and several new signings, the Rhinos still appear to be lacking that cutting edge. A 26-6 defeat to Warrington in round one was followed by a 34-16 demolition at Wigan. Granted, both games were away from home against sides that played out the 2018 Super League Grand Final. Yet, on both occasions, the Rhinos looked second best with their new signings doing little to inspire them.
New head coach Dave Furner brought in a wave of optimism when he joined the club towards the back end of last year. A former Grand Final winner with the Rhinos, Furner knew what made the club tick. Meanwhile, marquee NRL signings Konrad Hurrell and Trent Merrin raised the optimism further as did the capture of halfback Tui Lolohea and Leeds fans – and pundits alike – were predicting the West Yorkshire club to climb up the table after a disappointing 2018.
The season opener against Warrington soon brought Leeds fans back down to earth with Wire halfback pairing Blake Austin and Dec Patton running rings around Leeds’ Richie Myler and Tui Lolohea. Trent Merrin looked overweight and lacked the tenacity and drive that had seen him earn 13 State of Origin caps and seven Australia caps. Konrad Hurrell saw plenty of the ball, but Furner’s apparent tactic of setting Leeds’ attacking line to feed it to Hurrell for what seemed like twice in a set didn’t work and will do nothing but burn out the Tongan centre.
The Rhinos have spent big with what appears to be little reward so far. There is still a long way to go in the season, but the early signs are not exactly inspiring. Time and again in the first two rounds, Leeds looked void of ideas going forward. Yes, one can argue that halfback Lolohea is still settling in at Leeds, yet look at just how well Blake Austin has adjusted to life at Warrington; the contrast could not be greater.
Leeds play Salford a week on Sunday at the AJ Bell Stadium. Whilst the Rhinos have undermined pundits’ lofty predictions, the Red Devils are currently defying beliefs that they would finish close to or indeed the bottom of the pile. With two wins from two, Salford are currently top of the league and in a buoyant mood. Three losses from three would surely start the vultures circling at Headingley and after an off-season of hope, Furner’s rebuilding stage could well be under threat.