Brad Arthur lowdown: what Leeds Rhinos can expect from new coach including style, tactics

Mike Meehall Wood
Brad Arthur, the man linked with Leeds Rhinos

Bald, dressed in blue and yellow and with a strong  Australian accent.. it’s a familiar sight for Leeds fans. 

But Brad Arthur, the man set to take over from Rohan Smith at the club on a deal until the end of the current Super League season, really couldn’t be any different to the man he is set to replace at AMT Headingley.

BA, as everyone calls him, was sacked as coach of Parramatta in May following a dreadful start to the season, but led his side to a Grand Final as recently as 2022 and had been over a decade at the helm, a testament to his success at the Eels. 

When the axe finally fell, there was an outpouring of support for Arthur. Though many had foreseen the end to his tenure, it was still a surprise that it came when it did, on a nondescript Monday evening following a thrashing at the hands of Melbourne at Magic Round in Brisbane. 

It was tough on Arthur, coming on the eve of his 50th birthday, and his players immediately rallied around him with a stream of gifts, messages and visits. 

That spoke to the man. He never lost the dressing room and to the end, his charges loved him. In truth, however, it was probably the right time to end the cycle. 

His contract had been up for discussion and, with the team stalling and the squad stuck between two eras, a decision was made to move on swiftly rather than prolong the agony.  

That 2022 Grand Final team is still largely intact but a regeneration is needed and, in all likelihood, a clearout of some of the older players too.  

Leeds fans might want to take a look at the likes of Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Junior Paulo, as it would probably suit all parties if they swapped Western Sydney for West Yorkshire in the coming years. 

The pair had become symbolic of the issues at the club. 

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They had powered the Eels to the Grand Final as the NRL’s premier prop duo, but Arthur had become so wedded to them that he regularly refused to rotate out his big men, leading to collapses when they inevitably tired. 

Your columnist regularly questioned BA on this in press conferences, but was repeatedly told that Paulo and RCG earned the big bucks, so played the big minutes.  

It was common for Parramatta not to use their whole bench – Wiremu Grieg was the NRL’s most repeatedly unused sub – or to only give their 17th player a token five minutes at the end with the game gone. 

By the end, you could set your watch to the 49th minute when, in direct contrast to the general direction of rugby league teams, Parra would begin to concede more metres. It was almost as if their middles were knackered and should have been spelled. 

Interchange management was a major flaw that Arthur never solved and contributed to several poor results, but it would be remiss not to mention some of the horrendous luck he suffered, too. 

The NRL fixture list is far from fair and slammed Parramatta, a big fanbase, big stadium team, with glamour fixtures against top opponents when other teams, less marketable teams like Cronulla and Canberra were rewarded with easier games.  

That came to a head in 2023, when the Eels went 1-4 to start in a rock solid schedule and never recovered.  

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Moreover, Parra lost Dylan Brown to an off-field incident and, with a finals spot on the line against the Warriors, had Campbell-Gillard, Mitch Moses and Clint Gutherson called into the NSW squad for an Origin dead rubber.  

The coach rightly copped plenty of criticism for missing the playoffs directly off a Grand Final appearance, but the extenuating circumstances were clear to see. 

The results were the catalyst for BA’s departure, but they weren’t the only factor. The playing style was looking increasingly outdated, too. Parra were the last remnants of the pre-Six Again era, still wedded to bashing down the front door through the forwards. 

It was predictable but, when it worked, almost unstoppable. No team so regularly troubled Penrith and the Eels’ ability to create second phase, build momentum and roll through the centre of the pitch was unmatched. 

Every member of the pack could pop offloads, the halves loved to run and the wingers played very, very wide – ‘keeping our paint’ was BA’s phrase – meaning backrowers and centres could isolate themselves against opponents. 

On a theoretical level, it was a puzzle that few teams could solve. On the field, however, it often fell apart.  

Opponents realised that as long as they could keep the waves at bay for a while, they could simply wait for Parra to blow themselves out before cashing in late. 

The Eels generated relatively few metres from their backline, shifting the onus to their forwards to both create yardage with the ball and lead the line speed off it.  

The second aspect often fell apart – the run metres conceded stats made painful reading for Parra fans – as the forwards tired and Arthur refused to go to his bench. 

Arthur also benefitted from having Moses, owner of just about the longest boot in the NRL, who could kick the side out of trouble when the yardage work failed.  

Leeds are in a materially different situation to Parramatta and, should Arthur take charge, he won’t have the same ability to build a side to suit how he wants to play. 

After a decade in charge, it was clear that the roster at the Eels was his, and he had to live or die by it. BA is a Parra guy, a local junior product and a fan of the club going back to his great-grandfather, who attended the club’s first ever game in 1947. 

At Leeds, he’d be out of his comfort zone – but he has done that before.  

Arthur took his first coaching job as a 23-year-old to get onto the ladder and has travelled to the most northernly and southerly extents of Australian rugby league in Cairns and Melbourne to further himself. 

A move to Super League with Leeds now looks destined to be next.  

There are caveats: his playing style has looked outdated and his in-game management has been less than stellar. But his track record is strong, his players love him and he understands expectations and pressure like few others on the market. 

For a coach so close to an NRL Grand Final and with such pedigree from a massive Sydney club to come to the UK at this juncture, when he certainly would be in conversations for another NRL gig, is a coup. 


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