Super League legend Paul Sculthorpe says Leeds are a million miles away from silverware after their Magic Weekend disappointment.
It’s approaching six years since Leeds last won the Super League title, while their 2020 Challenge Cup win is their only trophy since then.
They have been in a period of transition in recent years following the end of a true sporting dynasty, with the likes of Kevin Sinfield, Rob Burrow, Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Jamie Peacock and Danny McGuire coming to the end of their careers following unprecedented success.
Eight of Leeds’ 11 league titles in their long history came within a red hot period between 2004 and 2017, and although they reached the Grand Final in 2022, Sculthorpe doesn’t expect their wait for title number 12 to end soon.
The Rhinos have swung from the brilliant to the baffling this season, leaving fans scratching their heads.
A heroic come-from-behind victory at Wigan with 12 men and a one-point win away at St Helens have beenundermined by two disappointing defeats to lowly Castleford, who have otherwise only managed to beat basement boys Wakefield.
Magic Weekend saw Saints turn in arguably the performance of the two days at St James’ Park as they dismantled Huddersfield.
The English triumvirate of Jonny Lomax, Lewis Dodd and Jack Welsby were in top form as they laid on four tries for another Englishman, Tommy Makinson.
Writing in his St Helens Star column, Sculthorpe said: “The team certainly looked back to their best in Newcastle on Sunday.
“It was a happy Magic Weekend for the Saints faithful…not only watching their side absolutely demolish Huddersfield by 48-6, but also see big rivals Wigan and Warrington drop points.
“The two (results) that did shock me and no doubt many other rugby league fans were Castleford defeating Leeds and Hull FC overcoming a halftime deficit to defeat Warrington.
“Cas have only won three games out of the 14 played so far in the Betfred Super League – and two of them being against the Rhinos.”
In a scathing 19-word assessment of the Rhinos’ trophy chances, Sculthorpe added: “This just shows how inconsistent this current Leeds side is, and a team a million miles away from silverware.”
Leeds struggling for consistency with one win in six
The defeat at Magic Weekend has left Leeds four points adrift of the play-off places, with sixth spot currently occupied with St Helens, who have a game in hand.
But as they proved last season, and as they have done many times in the past, it’s not how you start but how you finish.
Rohan Smith’s side went on a remarkable run in the second half of last season to reach an unlikely Grand Final, where they were beaten 24-12 by a Saints team that secured their fourth successive Super League title.
They suffered a heartbreaking defeat to St Helens at Headingley a fortnight ago, going down 13-12 to Dodd’s golden point extra time drop goal.
The win 40-18 win at Wigan is their only win in their last six games, that has taken in defeats to Salford and Leigh as well as an exit to Wigan in the Challenge Cup.
It would be a major upset if they were to slip at winless Wakefield this weekend, before they host struggling Huddersfield and then go to Warrington at the end of June.
Injury woes for Rhinos
Leeds have been hampered by numerous injuries, speculation over the future of certain players and a loss form.
The half-back partnership of Aidan Sezer, one of those missing, and Blake Austin hasn’t fired in 2023 as it did at times in 2022, while winger David Fusitu’a has been limited to 21 appearances since his arrival 18 months ago due to injury.
Centre Harry Newman and highly-rated back-rower Morgan Gannon are sidelined, as are overseas stars Sam Lisone and Zane Tetevano, who is out indefinitely.
They lost hooker Kruise Leeming earlier in the season too, which has increased the demands on Jarrod O’Connor and led to the blooding of young hooker Corey Johnson.
In spite of those issues, there is a belief that Leeds are underperforming and that in the defeat to Castleford, they didn’t want it enough.
Pundit and Leeds favourite Jamie Jones-Buchanan said on Sky Sports: “They just wanted it more. We saw it for the entire game, especially at the end the way they dragged James Bentley into touch, they just wanted it more.
“They are consistently inconsistent and it is frustrating because whenever you see it individuals or groups of people not fulfilling their potential, that is what upsets you.
“If you’re not good enough, you’re not good enough that’s fair enough but when you are not realising your potential, that is frustrating.”