As the regular rounds draw to a close, we are getting ever closer to the business end of the rugby league season. There are a number of teams who are still in with a chance of claiming a piece of silverware, one of them being Leeds, but are the Rhinos being overlooked as serious challengers?
As it stands, Leeds sit 2nd in the Super League table, are in a good position to make a charge towards the Grand Final and are also in the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup, with only Hull FC standing in their way of a third trip to Wembley in four years.
However, nobody seems to be talking about the Rhinos as a team who could win one of the three trophies on offer. Castleford are hot favourites to win both the League Leaders’ Shield and the Super League, rightly so after what they have thus far, while much improved Salford and current Challenge Cup holders Hull FC are the other teams fancied by many to taste success in 2017. So, with the attention fixed on that trio, Leeds have somewhat flown under the radar.
In fact, though, the ‘Loiners’ have been in good form, winning 7 of their last 10 games in all competitions. Some of those wins have been impressive too, notably the 40-0 triumph over Warrington in May and the 50-24 defeat of fellow trophy hopefuls Salford in Round 21. When you consider that alongside the fact that Leeds are only behind high-flying Castleford on the table and have breezed through to the Cup semi, with some thanks for that going to a generous run of fixtures against lower league opposition, it could be confusing as to why the Rhinos aren’t being hyped up a little more.
Perhaps a reason for this is that people’s view on Leeds has been marred by the humiliating 66-10 loss to Castleford back in March. Since then, it seems the Rhinos have always been fighting an up-hill battle to prove that was just a one off, but then after every loss or disappointing performance the nagging doubts over Leeds, which first properly came to our attention on that Thursday night at the Jungle, re-emerge again. Of course, slipping up and dropping points to (at the time winless) Warrington in April and (again, at the time) bottom of the table Widnes has not helped their cause, but Brian McDermott’s side have actually won 12 of their 17 league games following that loss to the Tigers, a record most would be happy with.
A lot of Rhinos fans will be open enough to admit that the style of rugby has been far from thrilling, and at times it has been almost painful to watch. That is likely to be another factor in why people have not really taken notice of Leeds, as they have done very little to draw attention to themselves for what they are producing on the pitch. But, what they have done so far has got them into the fairly healthy position they find themselves in at this stage of the campaign, so how bad can it really be?
Relating to that, Leeds have built up a bit of a reputation for coming good when it matters most, just look back to 2011 and 2012 when they came from fifth to win the Grand Final showpiece at Old Trafford. And, there are some signs the Rhinos do something similar again this year. Last week’s convincing, yet surprising, win over Salford was an eye opener for some rival fans as Leeds picked apart the Red Devils with relative ease and effectively had it won by half time, and this was against a team who will be in the mix come the end of the season.
With Danny McGuire hitting his stride in that game and having even more reason to want to spearhead a Leeds push for glory due to the news he will be leaving the club, as well as the likes of Adam Cuthbertson, Matt Parcell and Joel Moon all doing a great job of contributing to the cause, then there is reason to have belief that Leeds have the quality and capability to pick up either a 14th Challenge Cup or an 8th Super League title.
Leeds now have two more big matches to finish off the regular rounds, starting tonight with the visit of Hull FC to Headingley, and then a trip to Wigan next Friday. One win would seal a top-four place and four home ties in the Super 8’s, whereas two wins would show that the Rhinos are in a good place and are up for a big finish to the season.
We all know that the Rhinos have had their problems in 2017 and have been far from perfect, but it would be unfair on a team who sit 2nd in the league and are just 80 minutes away from Wembley to be written off at this point.