LEEDS Rhinos’ title defence is not going to plan. Following their narrow 10-12 defeat against Warrington Wolves at Headingley, they headed to Widnes hoping to get some points on the board. However, their opponents had other ideas, playing like men possessed and running in ten tries to leave players and fans of the Rhinos perplexed.
The loss of experienced heads Kevin Sinfield, Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai could well be a factor in their poor start, with teams maybe sensing a chink in the champions’ armour as experience makes way for youth. The injury to current captain Danny McGuire is a big blow, and he will be on the sidelines for the next six weeks at least with the knee injury he picked up against Warrington. Further injuries to Tom Briscoe, Carl Ablett and youngster Ashton Golding mean that the squad is down to the bare bones ahead of the visit of NRL side North Queensland Cowboys in the World Club Challenge, which pits the best of Super League against Australia’s finest.
However, a break from the exertions of the league and the opportunity to participate in a one-off match in which they are the underdogs could work in the Rhinos’ favour. It will also give new signings Keith Galloway and Brett Ferres a further opportunity to familiarise themselves with their new team-mates before the league returns in earnest, while also providing academy graduates Jordan Lilley, 19, and Liam Sutcliffe, 21, a chance to impress against foreign opposition. Lilley did not get much of a look-in last season, as a relatively settled starting XIII swept all before them. However, the injury to McGuire has handed the Leeds-born youngster his first extended spell in the side.
The impact of the floods which affected much of Yorkshire over the Christmas period also forced to the squad to relocate from their Kirkstall base, which has been completely submerged, and according to Chief Executive Gary Hetherington, it will be ‘the best part of six months before we can use the grass pitches and gymnasium [at the Kirkstall site]’. This will have undoubtedly hampered their preparations.
Despite this, the team answered almost all the questions that were posed in the previous campaign. This season the path looks considerably bumpier, but at this stage, no points deficit is insurmountable.
Featured image: The Guardian