The controversial sacking of Brian McDermott is a risk Leeds simply had to take at this stage of the season.
McDermott was dismissed on Monday following the 46-8 thumping at Wigan three days earlier, bringing to an end an almost eight-year spell at Headingley.
Leeds have fallen to eighth in the table after seven consecutive Super League losses, the worst run in their history, and have not won in the league since beating Hull KR in late April. They are only above ninth placed Huddersfield on points difference and are in real danger of missing out on a place in the Super 8’s.
His departure has split opinion within the Rhinos’ fanbase, with what seems like half of supporters believing the most successful coach in their club’s history should have been given more time, especially as several key players have been missing through injury, while the other 50% argue that recent form, league position and the quality of rugby are all good enough reasons to justify his dismissal.
The ex-Royal Marine’s record of turning things around, just as he did last season as Leeds rebounded from a spell in the Qualifiers in 2016 to win the Grand Final twelve months later, could also have been a saving grace for him but even that hasn’t kept him in a job on this occasion.
It is a risky move by Leeds, who have nobody lined up to come in and take over immediately, and the fact CEO Gary Hetherington admitted he didn’t expect to be in this situation suggests the search for a new boss has only just begun, rather than this being planned in advance.
But, Leeds have just four games of the regular season left to ensure they avoid falling into a relegation battle in the Qualifiers and there is also a Challenge Cup semi-final with Warrington coming up too, and with no indication that performances were going to improve any time soon, something had to be done.
The players have to shoulder some of the responsibility for the losing sequence as well but, as is always the case, it’s the man in charge of them who will be the first to get the blame, that’s the nature of the job.
Of course, changing the coach comes with no guarantee that things will get better but the Rhinos couldn’t allow things to continue the way they were. Performances over the past three months have been far from good enough and there were many pointers that McDermott had run his course in the Headingley hot seat.
Whoever does eventually take the role will have huge shoes to fill due to what McDermott has achieved in his time at the club. Four Grand Final wins, two Challenge Cups, a World Club Challenge and a League Leaders’ shield since 2011 is an outstanding achievement and one nobody can look past, no matter their opinion on him or the rugby Leeds played under his leadership. Brian McDermott will certainly go down as a club legend and the memories he created won’t be forgotten.
It’s now crucial that Hetherington and the Leeds board make the correct appointment, rather than rushing to bring a replacement in. A bad choice could easily see Leeds end up in a worse position than where they are now, which has already been described as “critical”.
Ex-Leeds men Daryl Powell, David Furner and Rob Burrow have been linked, as have the likes of Dennis Betts, Jason Demetriou and World Cup winning coach Stephen Kearney.
Whether it’s one of those possible candidates or another, there will be a lot of pressure to deliver when the chosen man arrives, especially after the reaction to McDermott being axed.
Time will tell on whether or not the call to part ways with McDermott really was the right one, but Leeds had to do what they felt was best for them as they head towards a crucial period of the season that could impact their next couple of seasons at least if wins don’t start coming their way soon.
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