Leeds Rhinos told they can be ‘serious title challengers’ by Sky Sports pundit following heavy recruitment drive

Ross Heppenstall
Barrie McDermott Leeds Rhinos Alamy

Sky Sports pundit Barrie McDermott - Alamy

Since winning their last Super League title six years ago, life at Leeds Rhinos has not been plain sailing.

Brian McDermott was ruthlessly sacked nine months after the 2017 Grand Final win over Castleford Tigers and Kevin Sinfield, David Furner and Richard Agar have all been and gone.

Rohan Smith arrived midway through 2022 and conjured a remarkable turnaround which culminated in the Rhinos reaching Old Trafford.

Yet the 2023 season was a bitter disappointment for a club who should have kicked on but instead went backwards.

Last week’s announcement, though, that Brodie Croft and Andy Ackers have been signed has encouraged hopes of a major upturn in 2024 – and a potential title challenge.

Here, legendary ex-Leeds prop Barrie McDermott – a member of the Hall of Fame, Super League title, Challenge Cup and World Club Challenge winner with the Rhinos – gives Love Rugby League his thoughts on the Headingley giants.

Barrie McDermott insists 2023 was ‘nowhere near good enough’ for Leeds Rhinos

McDermott said: “12 Super League wins in 2023 was nowhere near good enough for a club of Leeds Rhinos’ size, stature and history.

“I went to a lot of games as a fan and sometimes came away frustrated and disappointed.

“There must have been half a dozen matches decided by a try or less and, if the bounce of the ball had gone their way, Leeds would have come away with a win.

“But you’ve got to be on the right side of those games more often than not to grow and learn as a group.

“I said at the start of 2023 that unless Leeds reached a final then it would have to be considered a backwards step.

“Having got to Old Trafford in 2022, with all the optimism that generated, they have gone backwards by finishing outside of the play-offs and being nowhere near good enough.

“But I’m not putting the blame on Rohan Smith – he played the cards he’s been dealt.”

Leeds Rhinos have to set their sights high next season, says Sky Sports pundit

Brodie Croft and Andy Ackers Leeds Rhinos Alamy Leeds Rhinos have signed Brodie Croft and Andy Ackers ahead of 2024

McDermott continued: “The Rhinos have to set their sights high because I don’t believe in targeting a place in the play-offs. That’s rubbish.

“This club have to be challenging and winning things – the bar is too low if they say ‘we’ve got to make the top six’.

“Every successful team wants to have an impenetrable fortress at home so they’ve got to make it somewhere opposition teams fear to tread.

“They have to aim to be perfect at Headingley and make it a hostile environment with the intensity that they play at.

“With the signings they have made already for next season, why can’t they mount a serious title challenge?

“The fact is that Leeds Rhinos have to be competing in finals in 2024 – certainly now with the acquisition of Croft and Ackers.”

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