As we enter the crucial months of the season, there is still plenty to be excited about in the Betfred Super League.
Whether it be Castleford, Warrington and Wigan fighting for a spot in the end-of-season play-offs or Leeds, Hull KR Salford and Widnes fighting tough Championship competition to preserve their top flight status, so much is still undecided.
Over the next few days, we will be examining the season so far for all 12 Super League clubs, as they head into the ‘Super 8s split’. Next up is the Leeds Rhinos.
Position after 23 rounds: 9th
Record this year: W8 D2 L13 Pts18
Points: F441 A527 PD-86
Season in Summary
It always going to be a tough season for the champions, particularly with the retirement of two club legends, but they started off well enough with just two defeats from the first nine games to keep in touch with the front runners.
Then the wheels came off. Injuries had already been setting in but they only got worse, with captain Kallum Watkins the biggest loss with a season-ending injury. After a hammering at Wigan, their seventh consecutive Super League defeat, long-serving coach Brian McDermott was shown the door.
Club legend Kevin Sinfield took the new role of director of rugby, but has only managed one win in his five games so far as the Rhinos slipped to a second Qualifiers campaign in three years, and were eliminated by Warrington in the Challenge Cup semi-finals.
Best Result – St Helens (A)
Back in March things were still looking pretty good for Leeds, particularly after a brilliant 28-20 win to end St Helens’ stunning start to the season in what remains one of the best Super League games this season.
The match was tied at 14-14 when Ash Handley scored two tries in quick succession – the start of a scoring run that saw him shoot to prominence.
Ben Barba closed the gap but Matt Parcell’s late try sealed a fourth win in five games. Sadly that was as good as things got for the Rhinos – they only won another four in the 18 Super League games afterwards.
This season will be the last at the Rhinos for winger Ryan Hall, who has scored 232 tries in 329 appearances for the club. He’s crossed eleven times so far this season, but has proven that with decent service he is one of the best finishers in the sport, as well as being a strong metre-maker.
Richie Myler has come in for much criticism after moving from Catalans but he tops the Super League assists charts, setting up 23 tries in 20 games.
Super League’s offload king Adam Cuthbertson has missed large chunks of the season through injury, but remains hugely influential when on the field and will be crucial in the run-in.
Things to work on
There’s been plenty for Sinfield to get his teeth stuck into, but the biggest thing he can do is give his charges some confidence – much of the squad remains the one that won the Grand Final last year.
Only wins will do that, and as senior players return form injury Sinfield needs to put them front and centre in the team. Their young players have tried and failed under the pressure this season and while their day may still come, it’s time for the older heads to take responsibility to steer the Rhinos safe.
What to expect going into the 8s
A couple of early wins should set them up for a stroll through the Qualifiers like they had two years ago. The first two games see them face Toulouse at home before a trip to London – potentially problematic ties against highly motivated Championship sides with quality too.
The heavy defeat at Salford showed that there is a lot of work to do – if they rest on their laurels and lose one of those first two games, they face the other Super League sides in the next three and could slip into trouble.