Leeds Rhinos head coach Brian McDermott has sent an ominous message to potential challengers in 2012 insisting next season will be “easier” for the champions.
The West Yorkshire club made history this year by overcoming some turbulent times to become the first side to win a Super League Grand Final from as low as fifth place.
A remarkable end-of-season run saw them turn their stuttering campaign around to dismiss minor premiers Warrington Wolves, huge favourites for a first title of the summer era, and once again defeat St Helens at Old Trafford.
Leeds, written off in mid-July when they almost fell out of the top eight, stunned critics who felt they were a team on the wane with no chance of overcoming their more consistent rivals.
However, McDermott warned the likes of Warrington, Wigan and Saints that their achievement was no fluke and they aim to lead from the outset next year, something he feels they are now well prepared to do.
“I just think next year’s easier,” he told the Yorkshire Post.
“It’s not going to be easy but our motivation for next year is.
“While we won a competition and we sit here today as Super League champions nobody has got their collars up.
“Nobody thinks ‘that’s it, we’ve cracked it.’ We were poor enough last year for our motivation and our focus to be very high now.
“We weren’t the best team in the competition for periods and our motivation for next year is to be up near the top of the ladder and stay there as long as we can, be a leading team.
“For the majority of last season we were knocking around in fifth, sixth and seventh so, when people ask how we’re going to back it up, we think it’s pretty easy – it’s going to be about being a very, very good team right from the start.”
Part of Leeds’s early problems stemmed from the introduction of markedly new philosophies and styles after McDermott’s arrival from Harlequins last autumn.
He created a fresh approach which admittedly took time for his players – who had won titles in three of the previous four seasons under Tony Smith and Brian McClennan – to absorb.
However, with that now ingrained and clearly productive and with no long-term injuries to the likes of Jamie Peacock and Danny McGuire, unlike last year, McDermott expects a less problematic opening next time.
“There’s some things we’ll adjust and some we’ll just tweak but that’s all it will be,” he said, their Super League defence beginning against Hull KR on February 3.
“We’ll certainly not be doing the overhaul that we did at the end of last year.”
Supporters will get their first look at new prop signings Richard Moore and Darrell Griffin today when Rhinos entertain Wakefield Trinity Wildcats in the Heatshot Festive Challenge.
McDermott is particularly excited about the capture of Moore, 30, who was in Bradford Bulls’ Academy when his own playing career was coming to an end at Odsal.
Since then, the robust front-row had spells with London Broncos and Leigh before being lost to the game for a couple of years.
He re-emerged at Wakefield in 2007 and has spent the last two campaigns at Crusaders before their sudden Super League exit.
Having been diagnosed himself with Crohn’s Disease in 2009, Moore has also spent this year helping his son Harrison, who has been undergoing chemotherapy.
“There’s been certain noises about whether he’s a ‘Leeds player’,” said McDermott, about an aggressive forward who has admittedly endured a chequered and colourful past.
“But I think he’ll be a dark horse. Everybody’s team has been the victim of a Richard Moore carry or a Richard Moore off-load.
“He’s had some personal issues over these last couple of years which have really helped him mature as well and he’s a different bloke to the one I knew years ago.
“I just think the time is right for him and his body’s in great nick.”
Meanwhile, the Leeds coach is confident the club’s long-term future is in good hands due to the continued work of head of youth development Barrie McDermott.
“Because we don’t have thousands of kids playing the sport, we’re all after the same kids,” he said, highly-rated teenage stand-off Stevie Ward and prop Brad Singleton both playing today.
“But Leeds won’t compromise our standards to keep hold of those. Ultimately kids come here for reasons other than money.
“At times, I reckon Barrie comes across as a bit of bulldog with those kids, their mums and dads, because he’s very passionate about holding on to what makes Leeds Rhinos good.
“If we have a seven out of 10 player we can make him an eight or nine as long as he adopts some of the philosophies this club has.
“Barrie has a real pride about that and he instills it into the 16- and 17-year-olds. I don’t think you can ever replace Kevin Sinfield but he’s become a great player because of some of the cultures here – if he’d have gone somewhere else that was money-orientated I don’t think he’d be the same player. But we’ve got a decent bunch of kids here at the moment – the best since the Sinfield, McGuire, Burrow, Diskin brigade came through – and we know it will be easier because they are used to that culture.”
Belief of the Rhinos: Page 18.