Before Friday night’s morale boosting win over St Helens, Brian McDermott’s side had the worst attack in the league. A stunning statistic for a free-flowing side who scored over 150 more points than any other team last season.
Leeds enjoyed their most successful year ever in 2015 and became only the third side, along with Bradford Bulls and St Helens, to win the domestic treble since the Super League era began. Not only did they collect all three trophies, they also swept up the individual awards. Zak Hardaker, Tom Briscoe and McDermott won the Man of Steel, Lance Todd Trophy and Coach of the Year awards respectively.
Fast forward to 2016, and it’s a different story.
Yes, three legends have gone and yes, other teams have improved around them but, after half-dozen games, Leeds only have two wins with four losses.
If after the defeat of Wigan in the Grand Final somebody told you that the Rhinos would lie near the bottom of the league this season, after six games, you’d laugh. And then laugh again.
Laughing you would, but the Rhinos are currently ninth – only two points away from bottom-side Wakefield Trinity Wildcats. Following a crushing 56-12 defeat to now surprise leaders Widnes Vikings in February, fans’ started to question whether the gaping holes dented by departing trio Jamie Peacock, Kevin Sinfield and Kylie Leuluai were maybe bigger than first feared.
With no leader on the pitch willing to rally the team together at the most vital moments, no battering ram willing to put all on the line and dig the deepest when the backs are against the wall, and no-one willing to press the forward line consistently, Widnes were able to dominate from start to finish. 2015, a distant memory.
Down on confidence, down on troops, maybe down on motivation, the Rhinos seem a different beast in 2016. Their injury count has been bad – but you could say the same for Huddersfield, Hull KR, Wigan and other clubs. How they deal with the injury crisis is telling.
Against Wigan Leeds were diabolical, defensively well below their best. Against Huddersfield they grinded a win out but it was far from pretty.
However, an improved performance last Friday will offer fresh hope, and with the returning captain Danny McGuire nearing full fitness, there is a chance the Rhinos could push on and become the fearsome side they were, and still may well be.
Can they turn it around? Definitely.
McGuire’s absence has been hard felt and the stand-off will be a welcomed addition to a side, currently, lacking real leadership. The veteran is a try-scorer and that is was Leeds need, as daft as it could sound. While the attention was rightly focused on Peacock, Sinfield and Leuluai in the grand ginal last season, it was McGuire who organised the team to victory when the team most needed it last October. McGuire scored two tries in the game and together with Sinfield, was part of a long-standing duo.
Cool, calm, collected and experienced, the new Leeds skipper is the side’s most important player.
Now, it is up to McGuire to carry on the proud legacy of the past decade. The captain will be hoping he can push his side up the table and back to the force that synonymously they so are.