If anyone can learn from Leeds’ current despair, it’s McDermott

Not many would have predicted that after three rounds of Super League 2016, Leeds Rhinos would be sitting bottom of the table.

Brian McDermott’s men have lost all three games, have no league points, and a points difference of -50.

In addition, the Rhinos were well beaten in their leg of the World Club Series, just like Wigan and St Helens, as Super League‘s latest attempt to claim some international glory from the NRL came up well short.

Leeds stayed in their contest against NRL champions North Queensland Cowboys for much longer than either Saints or the Warriors, with the half-time scoreline being 4-4 at Headingley.

But they still lost 38-4, a result which came a week after losing 56-12 at Widnes, and a fortnight after their opening day defeat to Warrington.

A narrow defeat away to Catalans at the weekend has only served to deepen the gloom at Headingley.

Things look tough for the Rhinos, with injuries to new recruits like Beau Falloon biting deep into their resources.

The departure of Kevin Sinfield, Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai has left holes in the squad, not in terms of quality, but in terms of character and leadership.

Pre-season was also disrupted, thanks to flooding, and that may have taken more of a toll than any at the club have so far admitted.

The time has come for Brian McDermott to really show his quality, get a grip of his squad, and show Super League that this spell is merely a wobble, rather then the opening symptoms of long-term decline.

If any coach can do that, it’s McDermott.

He is a cerebral coach, a thinker about the game of rugby league and sport in general.

“I think you never, ever stop learning,” he told Love Rugby League recently.

“Sport is, in itself, fascinating. How the best player in the world can be so poor on one occasion, and then what you regard as an average player can, on one occasion, be absolutely brilliant and nail a game for you.

“Coaching in itself is fascinating.

“I don’t read a lot, but I probably research more than anything.

“I do a lot of research. I talk to a lot of people.

“Rugby league in five years time may just have one or two little increments which have changed, maybe in how it’s officiated or how it’s played.

“If you don’t keep up with those changes, it will leave you behind.

“I think the only way that you wouldn’t keep up to speed with it, is when you think you’ve got it cracked.

“As soon as you do that, you may as well give up.”

McDermott is a coach who is constantly learning, constantly seeking for the extra edge that a piece of information or a cleverly gained insight can provide.

“I think the best quote I’ve ever heard is, ‘The more I learn, the more I don’t know.’,” he said.

“That is so true. I have so many doubts about knowing rugby league than I did when I first kicked off, and I was full of bravado and naivety and I was confident about what I did.

“Some of the pitfalls and some of the ups and downs of the game, you really have to be on your mettle every single week.”

His selection decisions, like that of naming Adam Cuthbertson as a nominal hooker last season, point to a mind which enjoys finding unusual solutions to problems.

McDermott’s team plays an entertaining style too, which reflects a mind which is open to possibility. There is none of the monomaniacal tunnel vision which seems to affect other clubs.

There is neither the focus on statistics, nor on relentless and occasionally pointless aggression, which dominates the thinking of other coaches, often to the detriment of their team’s development of all-round potential.

Nor is McDermott some kind of laid-back, laissez faire merchant, who simply trusts and hopes that his players will do the right thing.

Spending time behind the scenes at Headingley, one is often struck by the atmosphere of quiet, determined professionalism. Stress seems to be short supply.

That cerebral, calm approach is needed now. If ever there was a time for one of Super League‘s most thoughtful and insightful men to show his qualities of leadership, organisation and inspiration, it is now.

It could be a long season for Leeds otherwise.

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