Desperate Leeds Rhinos in need of rapid response in order to survive in Super League
AS Good As It Gets? was good, and there could soon be an equalling fascinating sequel on its way.
Lee Hicken’s marvellous feature-length documentary telling the story of Leeds Rhinos’ Golden Generation and their epic Treble success of 2015 has proved a real hit since its release last summer.
Undoubtedly the talented director managed to unearth gold from many of the protagonists in the club’s remarkable odyssey.
Yet not Hicken, nor anyone, could have envisaged what has unfolded since.
Crisis-hit Leeds are facing a third relegation battle in just four years with this season’s current situation the most alarming of all.
Whereas before they had the safety net of the Qualifiers to tentatively ease their way out of trouble, this year there is no such grace: a Super League side will be relegated in a few months.
Given woeful Rhinos’ perilous state it is, then, understandable why there are increasing concerns at Emerald Headingley.
When the Magic Weekend fixtures were announced in November, Leeds v London Broncos – the team promoted via the Million Pound Game – looked like the one where plenty of people could slope off for a pie and pint if they had had their rugby league fill.
It did little to whet the appetite, put it that way. Yet now, suddenly, Sunday’s contest in Liverpool is the most intriguing of the entire two days, perhaps even the whole season so far.
London, of course, sit bottom as many expected. However, the only thing that separates them from Hull KR and Leeds is an inferior points difference.
Broncos coach Danny Ward, who as a player helped start Rhinos’ golden era with their maiden 2004 Grand Final win, has already tasted victory over his erstwhile club once this term.
When they rallied from behind to win late on at Headingley in mid-March it was perhaps the first true sign that stumbling Leeds were in serious trouble.
Still, even with just four wins from 14 games no one truly expected Dave Furner to be sacked by the first week of May.
Firing coaches is not really the Leeds way yet now they have dismissed two in just 10 months following Brian McDermott’s exit last summer.
But why have the three-time World Club champions stagnated so badly? Some of the performances this term have been turgid, shambolic and utterly unrecognisable from what people have grown to expect from the club.
Obviously it was always going to be difficult adjusting when they lost three retiring legends – eight-time Grand Final winning captain Kevin Sinfield, Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai – at the end of that 2015 campaign.
Granted Rhinos won the title two years later, but that success, sending two more heroes – Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow – out on a high, merely papered over the cracks that had begun to show.
Recruitment and retentions, for some time, have been poor and left Leeds hamstrung.
Still, the appointment of Sinfield as director of rugby last summer was supposed to be the advent of a new beginning. He decided to bring Furner in as his man to overhaul things believing the Australian was the perfect candidate yet, within six months, it appeared that was not the case after all. He can ill-afford to get the next appointment wrong.
But where do Leeds go with that? Richard Agar is interim coach, but has made it clear he has no real desire to return to such a role. Tepid defeats in the shock Challenge Cup loss at Bradford Bulls and at home to Castleford Tigers will have done little to suggest he should put his neck on the line further.
Do they carry on with his safe hands in the hope he can steer them clear or get someone else in quickly and start from scratch once more? Will class candidates, though, be put off what is deemed a top role by the fact they could be sacked within just 14 games?
Firstly, players need to respond. They are better than this even if some, drained of confidence, are thinking otherwise.
Up next are games at Wakefield and against champions Wigan, leaders St Helens and Catalans Dragons, so things are not going to get any easier.
Desperate Leeds, therefore, simply must beat London.
The problem is their opponents have known all year they are in a fight and they are up for it. You wonder if Rhinos even know they are in the ring yet.