Leeds Rhinos lost their fifth game in seven on Saturday after going down 33-20 to Catalans Dragons in Perpignan, extending what has been a miserable run for the Rhinos over the last couple of months.
The Rhinos sit in sixth place on the league ladder, just one point above Wakefield and thirteen points behind league leaders St Helens after 15 games, which is a disappointing position for the 2017 champions to be in, with over half of the regular season now played.
The loss at the Stade Gilbert Brutus at the weekend was Leeds’ seventh of the season, the same amount of wins they have thus far in 2018, and just three less than they lost in the whole of their 2017 campaign.
Their poor form has seen the pressure grow on coach Brian McDermott, who has always had his critics during his tenure at Headingley but has been able to keep the majority of fans onside with his proven ability to win trophies.
However, with a mid-table finish looking likely and the gap in quality between the Rhinos and the likes of St. Helens and Wigan glaringly obvious, an increasing number of the Leeds faithful seem to be losing patience.
A lengthy injury list hasn’t helped McDermott’s cause; six of his squad are currently out with long-term injuries and ten players were unavailable for the trip to the South of France.
Nevertheless, other teams in Super League have had injury concerns of their own and have arguably been able to deal with the situation better and, in truth, even when the Rhinos have had a healthy squad to choose from they have been under par.
One of the main criticisms of McDermott is the brand of rugby he has Leeds playing, which is often described as boring, predictable and uninspiring by the Headingley faithful. That has certainly been the case again this year, with teams finding it reasonably easy to keep them from scoring points; the Rhinos look short of ideas with the ball in hand and are one of only two sides who haven’t managed to score 30 points or more in any game.
In the early weeks of the season their lack of tries was somewhat covered up by a good defence, but even that has let them down recently with 124 points conceded in their last 4 matches and 467 missed tackles overall. Only Huddersfield (471) are the only side currently in the top 8 to have missed more tackles than the Rhinos.
In comparison to the rest of the league, that gives them the sixth best attack and just the fifth best defence, further showing how average this season has been and why there are suggestions it is time for McDermott to be moved on.
This isn’t the first time there have been calls for McDermott to be replaced either. Last season, following Castleford’s memorable 66-10 thrashing of the Rhinos, he was given four games to save his job by CEO Gary Hetherington due to clear disgruntlement within the fanbase- the discord was also due to bizarre team selections and use of interchanges, as well as results and performance.
All four of those games were won meaning he was safe, but since then each loss or poor display has led to more questions being asked in regards to whether or not he remains the right man for the job.
Some even thought McDermott may have taken the opportunity to step down after the Grand Final win and leave on a high, but having chosen to stay, the relationship between him and sections of those in the stands seems to be turning sour again.
Put simply, the players Leeds possess should be producing much better than they have been doing, particularly in attack, so the tactics and coaching style surely have to be looked at. It may be that, after so many years, McDermott’s techniques have become old and the players no longer respond to them as well as they once did.
If that is the case, and it is only speculation, then it may be a wise decision to make this his last season with the club and look to bring somebody with fresh ideas in ahead of 2019.
Shaun Wane is leaving Wigan at the end of the season partly because he feels he has achieved all he can with the Warriors, and that could be something for McDermott to consider too with things not going to plan.
Whatever the reason behind Leeds not playing to their potential, there will be a big decision to be made by the higher powers at Leeds Rhinos if things don’t improve.
Leaving Leeds is sure to be a big deal for McDermott when the time does come; he is, after all, the most successful coach in their history. But, with the on-field personnel constantly changing and the Rhinos struggling for consistency and identity, he may want to move with the times and depart before more fans turn on him and more damage is done to what should be a glowing reputation based on his achievements.
With the Challenge Cup Quarter Final against Leigh Centurions coming up next, there will be an expectation on Leeds to progress to the semi-finals.
But, the two sides couldn’t be in more contrasting form so it won’t be a foregone conclusion by any means, and a shock loss to the Championship outfit could prove to be the beginning of the end for Brian McDermott at Leeds.