THE HARD work is beginning for Leeds Rhinos’ director of rugby Kevin Sinfield.
Rhinos’ miserable season ended on a low note three days ago when they were beaten 17-16 by Toronto Wolfpack at Emerald Headingley.
The narrow defeat guaranteed Rhinos’ place in Betfred Super League next year, but Sinfield admitted after the game Rhinos have not been good enough this season.
Sinfield has been working on recruitment since he returned to the club in early July and The Yorkshire Evening Post understands several significant signings are in the pipeline, but the challenge now is to get deals completed.
The usual post-season review of Rhinos’ playing and backroom staff will take place over the next few weeks before pre-season begins in November.
Ryan Hall, Joel Moon and Jimmy Keinhorst are confirmed departures from the 2018 squad. Josh Jordan-Roberts, who did not play a senior game this year, joined York City Knights late in the campaign and Jordan Lilley will spend next season on loan at Bradford Bulls.
We are busted, so we need a group that are durable and ready to fight for each other again because at the minute we are not doing.Kevin Sinfield
Several players are out of contract this autumn and new deals have yet to be announced. Though some players may be released, Sinfield admitted that is dependent on having better quality coming in.
He had said before last week’s game Rhinos were ready to push the button on some new additions, once Super League survival was confirmed.
The job of pulling past and present players together to form a more competitive side next year will fall to new coach Dave Furner, with Sinfield taking a wider role.
“We’ve obviously got a new coach coming in and we’ll make sure he has every support wrapped around him to make sure we get back to where we need to be,” Sinfield stressed. But he also conceded: “It might take some time.”
Rhinos ended the season with full-back Jack Walker (concussion), captain/centre Kallum Watkins (knee), winger Hall (knee) and prop Mitch Garbutt (knee) all on the casualty list, along with second-rowers Carl Ablett (knee), Stevie Ward (ankle) and Brett Delaney (fractured cheekbone).
Centre Ash Handley – who had been sidelined since the start of August with shoulder and foot injuries – was named in the initial 19-man squad to face Toronto, but did not play.
“No excuses at all, but if you look at the quality of player that’s not available to us at the minute, half our salary cap’s sat on the sidelines,” Sinfield observed. “We are busted, so we need a group that are durable and ready to fight for each other again because at the minute we are not doing.”
Sinfield insisted he is aware of what lies behind Rhinos’ drop in standards, but is not willing to reveal details. “I know what problems we have got internally and I will do my best to fix them,” he said.
With the season now over Sinfield’s focus will shift away from day-to-day team matters. He explained: “I probably now fall more into the role I’ve been doing at the RFL with the England team, not that I’ve been massively hands-on anyway.
“Jimmy [Lowes, Rhinos first team coach] has handled the majority of the coaching alongside Chev Walker and Rob Burrow. Sporting director is probably the best term, like they have in football – technical director, somebody who’ll oversee our full rugby environment, but also have an input into our academy and how we play and the philosophy we have and the science we use, our medical team.
“All the bits and pieces that put together a rugby club. I’ve had a small amount of experience doing it with England so far and really enjoyed it and I actually feel that’s where my strength is. It needed to be the best man for the job to coach this club and I feel we’ve got that in Dave. I’ll make sure we put that support network around him to enable him to do the best he can with our playing group.”