Leeds Rhinos are the nearly men of recent years in Super League, dominating for the majority of several seasons before falling away near the end. Last season, they played second fiddle to St Helens and then Hull, before a surprise defeat at home to Warrington in the playoffs.
Leeds’ starting 13 is capable of challenging with anybody, but it’s their strength in depth which appears to let them down this time round. The loss of several squad players may not have had such a great impact on paper, but should they be hit by injuries as they so often have been in the past, the Rhinos may struggle.
Perhaps the biggest loss is that of Shane Millard, who proved useful in covering for Matt Diskin in 2006. Also out of the door were Chris Feather, Richie Mathers, Chev Walker, Mark O’Neill and Willie Poching.
With the likes of Jamie Jones-Buchanan stepping up to the mark in 2006, the Rhinos have a steady starting pack, with captain Kevin Sinfield at loose forward and Jamie Peacock at prop being the key men. If the forwards can create the platform for support players Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow to roam free in, then the Rhinos may well challenge.
A clear problem for the Rhinos is their lack of a playmaker in midfield, with both McGuire and Burrow primarily support players, the mantle of playmaker is left for Sinfield, ultimately meaning if he has a bad game, Leeds don’t perform. A lot will depend on Webb’s ability to join the line and distribute to the Rhinos’ outside backs.
Like Bradford, it is possible that Leeds could fall victims of the ever increasing standard of Super League. Maybe the Rhinos missed their chance for glory in 2004 and 2005, but they are sure to be up there with the big guns this season.
3rd – Headingley will remain a fortress for the Rhinos and although their lack of strength in depth may count against them, on their day they could beat anyone in Super League.