Next on our ground hopping tour is Headingley and the Leeds Rhinos. One of the most successful clubs in the Super League era have found themselves in the bottom half of the league far too often for their liking. Now the slate is wiped clean and after a coach change midway through 2019 can the Loiners get back to where they feel they belong?
Giving us guidance on the 2020 season are fans Dave Blackburn and Mark McDonagh who have followed Leeds through the good times and the bad.
Many thanks to the guys for responding and giving their opinions…
First of all tell us a little about yourself…
MM: I’ve been a Leeds supporter since 1995, and an intermittent season ticket holder over that period. I’ve been lucky enough to see us win a lot of Grand Finals, but also unlucky enough to see us lose a lot of Challenge Cup finals too.
DB: I’ve supported Leeds since 1985 when my old man took me to see Leeds lose to Wigan with Brendan Hill scoring the only try for Leeds. Held a season ticket from 1987 – 1998 until I moved away from the area with work.
Sum up last season as a Leeds fan.
MM: Unfortunately, staying up was the highlight. We appeared to want to do things on the cheap and whether that was due to the stadium cost or bad previous recruitment, there didn’t seem to be much depth. Myler is great for off the cuff rugby, but couldn’t organise well. I was never a fan of Watkins as captain and that showed. After so many years with natural leaders such as Sinfield, Peacock etc. we really struggled to grind out close games and often looked crestfallen when falling behind early.
DB: Things just didn’t seem right from the off last season. The structure, desire, confidence and leadership just weren’t there. I have never been a fan of spending big money and making huge changes and last season just re-enforced the view. When thing were bad the players just looked around for direction and inspiration. Making Trent Merrin captain when Watkins left help steady things and getting Adam Cuthbertson back to his best helped us limp over the line but I hope we carry on moving forward with Luke Gale now as the half back general. Positives – Rhyse Martin, Brad Dwyer, Ash Handley, Trent Merrin, Konrad Hurrell, Adam Cuthberson Negatives – Getting rid of Matt Parcell, Kallum Watkins form, lack of a Danny McGuire/Rob Burrow replacement.
We welcome Toronto into Super League for the first time, meaning we now have 2 teams from outside of the UK taking part in Super League.
So in three parts: a) What are your thoughts on Toronto’s promotion, b) would you welcome more expansion teams from across Europe and/or North America and c) what would your ideal ‘domestic’ Rugby League competition look like in 20-30 years (e.g. Toronto to still be part of the Super League structure with other expansion teams, all expansion teams to be in their own strong domestic leagues, UK only super League etc.)
MM: a) Promotion is earned and you can’t begrudge their involvement. It’s a massive opportunity for the sport to expand but one I have reservations about. The money can’t last forever…will the fans still go if they aren’t a top 5 side. I hope it works out and that they can attract a mixture of great players and young local kids
b) It all comes down to money. The clubs can’t afford to fund regular transatlantic trips so you need a rich owner to be willing to get involved.
c) Expansion would be great locally – like Birmingham, Edinburgh, Dublin. I’d love to see a Magic Weekend or 9’s tournament in Dublin, we should use the influence of Andy Farrell as Head Coach of Ireland RU to help promote local interest in such an event. The quality of RL has decreased in the last 10 years and we need to find out why. We could do with more rugby on terrestrial TV. If Magic was a 9’s tournament a bit like RU 7’s then you could have a trophy at the end of the weekend and showcase the attacking nature of the sport on new viewers and hopefully this would encourage more kids to get involved.
DB: a) Really pleased with the addition of Toronto, just with the signing of Sonny Bill Williams we can see the intent and positive influence they will bring. They have a fairly decent fan base and I can see them filling Lamport a few times next even without away fans.
b) I would love to see more clubs outside the traditional heartlands in the top flight. It has to be managed correctly and done fairly but I’m not one of the Blue Passport brigade who thinks navel gazing and bringing back the Yorkshire/Lancashire Cups will solve our problems, we have to be outward looking and inclusive if we are to attract the fans and sponsors to our wonderful game.
How do you think your team will go in 2020?
MM: Top 5 would be the minimum of a good season, but I think Leeds need a trophy to really call it a successful season, however I’m not sure they will be quite there yet. It would be good to see attractive rugby with leadership on the pitch and youngsters being blooded. Getting things more right than wrong with a view to win it in 2021 would be acceptable.
DB: For 2020 I’d just like to see us improve from last year really. As a long standing supporter I appreciate you have to suffer the bad times to appreciate the good. A few big wins, not to be worried about relegation and not to lose to Bradford is all I’m asking for.
Are you happy with your recruitment this year – is there anywhere you feel you need to improve?
MM: I think we are lacking on the wings. Briscoe never fills me with confidence under the high ball and think his sharpness may have gone in attack once he returns from injury. Handley is good at being in the right place at the right time but needs to be a better decision maker at key points in attack and defence. Gale is an interesting one considering he’s been out injured for 2 years. This will either be a great signing or a terrible signing – no inbetween.
DB: I’m sad to see Trent Merrin leave but we have to respect his decision, family always comes first. It will be interesting to see how Matt Prior gets on, I don’t expect him to solve all our problems straight away but I hope we see someone in the mould of JP who will be the first to take the ball up and who you want to go into battle with.
Golden point was used in Super League last year – what are your thoughts on the system?
MM: I get the excitement of golden point but if the scores are level at the end of the game then a draw is a fair result. If having a winner is the preferred option I would prefer it to be golden try. If the receiving team score from their first set, the defending team should have a chance to respond.
DB: Golden Point, I love Rugby League’s willingness to try things but sometimes it just doesn’t work. There’s nothing wrong with a draw.
Which one of your clubs players is the one to watch out for this season?
MM: Jack Walker – still very young but has already got a lot of experience, now established 1st teamer, I expect him to be challenging for the England number 1 jersey at the end of the year.
DB: As a number 9 geek I think Kruise Leeming could be one to watch next year. With 2 fast acting half backs, if we can get the forwards on the front foot, we can expect to see the kind of damage we saw when we had Matt Parcell firing on all cylinders.
Which of your young players is most likely to make a name for themselves this season?
MM: Harry Newman, lots to learn but he will get far on passion alone. He looks like a live wire and hard to contain. With the right guidance he will hopefully develop quite a lot this year.
DB: With the pressure off I expect to see Callum McLelland take the next step this year.
Your predictions please…
MM: Top 5: 1. Saints, 2. Wigan, 3. Warrington, 4. Hull, 5. Leeds; Grand Final: Saints v Wigan; Champions: Saints; Relegated: Hull KR
DB: Top 5: Wigan, St Helens, Warrington, Hull FC, Any of the other teams apart from Huddersfield; Grand Final: Saints v Wigan; Champions: Saints; Challenge Cup: Warrington; Relegated: Huddersfield
Who will be Man of Steel? Do you agree with the way the votes are given out?
MM: Jonny Lomax – Think he will excel this year. Not sure he gets the plaudits he deserves. No issue with the votes but think it could be weighted 50/50 with a coach and captain vote from each team.
DB: Daryl Clark if he stays fit, with the new system you have to be playing week in week out and consistently scoring, the right way to do it in my book