It’s been a mixed few months for Leeds Rhinos fans. While they have been looking back on the most successful season in their history, claiming a sensational treble in a year of domination, three of the club’s most influential players brought the curtain down on their respective careers.
With the 2016 season now edging ever closer, there is a huge question mark next to the Rhinos to see how much they miss those recently retired legends and whether they can repeat their 2015 exploits.
Head coach Brian McDermott is currently the darling of Headingley following the club’s achievements last season. But that could all change if the Rhinos collapse in 2016, and the Super League side have been quick to try to strengthen their squad during the offseason in a bid to try and replace those departed players. While the departure of captain Kevin Sinfield has been the most noteworthy, the loss of stalwarts Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai will be an equally devastating blow for this squad.
With 19 Grand Final winner rings between them, the trio have been instrumental to the Rhinos’ success over the past decade, especially last season’s treble. Moves have been made to try and plug the gaps left by that recently retired group, and the club have brought in a number of talented players since the end of the season. Having added Australian hooker Beau Falloon and prop Keith Galloway to their ranks over the past few months, McDermott was also able to bring in Huddersfield forward Brett Ferres.
But the Leeds head coach knows he has more to worry about than stacking his squad with world class players, with the influence, work-rate and leadership brought to the squad by Sinfield, Leuluai and Peacock, who relished team work – perhaps the biggest aspect that needs to be replaced in 2016. McDermott will be exploring a number of options in the hope of guiding this team through this transitional period. Indeed, this is a period which could be spent looking at taking tactics and strategies from sports and other areas of life and adapting them to his Leeds Rhinos team.
So where could McDermott look in a bid to help him over the next year?
Playing Cards: Knowing When to Take Risks
One benefit of having a player like Sinfield in your team is that you know you don’t have to take too many risks in a game to claim a win. Whether it’s his nerveless goal-kicking or his faultless decision making, Sinfield, whose ability saw him named England captain in 2012, took a lot of the risk out of a game by knowing what to do and when to do it. While McDermott has shown he knows what he’s doing when it comes to tactics and strategies, not having Sinfield out on the pitch as his eyes and ears will test the Leeds head coach as well as forcing him into taking some risks at points during the year.
Whether it is poker or blackjack, there are plenty of factors that go into each decision you make. In Poker, this can be in the size of the raise, the decision to call or the attempt to bluff. Whether you’re playing online or in a casino in Vegas, being able to make a call to fold a hand and cut your losses can sometimes be as valuable as knowing exactly when to go all in and take a risk. McDermott could do worse than look to cards to help him sharpen his tactical and strategic skills. Take blackjack, for example. It all adds up to knowing your options in blackjack, and deciding what to do with your hole cards; do you hit, stand, split or double down? For McDermott, this will manifest itself in a number of ways whether it is playing untested youngsters or making those important calls that help the club continue to dominate the Super League. There is a huge level of risk about each and every decision he makes this year.
Ice Hockey: Sharing the Responsibility
While Peacock and Leuluai were rightly respected senior members of this Rhinos squad during their twilight years, there is no doubt that it was Kevin Sinfield who was the leader of this team. Captain for much of his time with the club, Sinfield led Leeds to seven Super League championships. The club legend will rightly go down as one of the Rhinos’ greatest ever skippers. It’s perhaps no surprise that this squad became accustomed to being able to look to their captain in times of crisis, with Sinfield more often than not coming up with the answer.
In the world of ice hockey, this responsibility is shared out much more, with a number of captains named in each team. It is viewed as being an even more important role than in any other major sport. While teams in the NHL all have a main captain, they also include a number of alternate captains who have a big role to play in terms of leadership. McDermott will need to have a number of these ‘assistant captains’ in his team now that Sinfield has left. As well as the likes of senior players Rob Burrow – who signed a new deal in the summer – Jamie Jones-Buchanan and Carl Ablett, McDermott will want those younger members of his team to step up and take a role in the leadership of the team.
American Football: Focus on Youth
While positions such as quarterbacks and kickers have a relatively long life span in the NFL, sides don’t tend to look at many players older than 25 for the rest of the positions in an American football team. Rather than face the prospect of having a spine of a team all retire at the same time, such as what has happened with the Rhinos, the ever-revolving draft system means teams have a fresh batch of young players to choose from each season. While this means NFL teams don’t have the same consistency in terms of personnel as teams in the Super League, it does mean only the best players in each position are kept around each year, with very little chance of experiencing the ageing process this Leeds team is going through.
There are few top-level teams in any sport that have enjoyed watching the same group of players for 10-plus years achieving great things. Rhinos fans have had that luxury for the past decade, culminating in their treble win last season. With the likes of Cameron Smith, Mikolaj Oledzki, Josh Jordan Roberts and Ryan Jones all coming through the ranks, Leeds fans will be excited about the prospect of a new generation of homegrown players bursting on the scene and wearing the shirt with pride.