What has gone wrong at Leeds Rhinos?

Leeds Rhinos players

Leeds Rhinos have won only three of 16 Super League matches this season

Leeds Rhinos came into this Super League season on the back of a memorable League Leaders’ Shield, Challenge Cup and Grand Final treble.

But this campaign has lurched from one setback to the next as the loss of key players, coupled with injuries and poor form, have hit the champions hard.

Friday’s 52-18 loss at Warrington left the Rhinos bottom of Super League, 18 points behind leaders Hull FC.

BBC Sport spoke to three key figures at Headingley to get an insight into what has gone wrong at the club.

The chief executive


Last season Leeds became only the third team to win the treble

Former player Gary Hetherington has been in charge of Leeds since 1996 – the first year of Super League.

In his 20 years at the club they have won the Grand Final seven times and the Challenge Cup twice.

“These are unchartered times,” he says. “It is over 20 years since we last found ourselves in a predicament like this.

“Last year was the most successful season in our history. Everything that could have gone right did. This year everything that could have gone wrong has done the same.

“The reasons are plain. There is nothing mysterious about it. We have had an unprecedented run of injuries.

“Our salary cap is £1.9m but it has been very rare this season we have turned out a team worth more than £1m. In most games more than half of it has been sat in the stand.


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“Couple this with the loss of our training ground due to the flooding and they are two solid reasons why the team has not been successful.

“You would still have expected our players to have played better than they have, particularly our experienced players. They have been waiting longer than we expected to click into form. It is a frustrating for everyone.

“We have never had a more competitive Super League than we have now. We have created promotion and relegation. That pressure is felt by the coaching staff and players.

“Everyone is spending to the salary cap, so we should have 12 equal teams. When one team has been decimated by injuries, they are inevitably going to suffer.

“Changing the coach [Brian McDermott] is not the way forward. Whenever a team falls on tough times, inevitably, the spotlight falls on the coach, wrongly in my view.

“In our case it is the form of our experienced players that is the biggest problem. The victims are the coaching staff.

“Normally in a situation like this you have infighting, low morale and a bit of chaos. We don’t have any of that. It is a strong, tight-knit group.

“It is a situation of real concern. This is a new experience. It is not a challenge we are depressed about but we are looking ahead.”

The captain


Danny McGuire has won seven Super League titles with Leeds

Danny McGuire has spent his entire career with the Rhinos, making almost 400 appearances since his debut in 2001.

He took over the captaincy following the departure of influential loose forward Kevin Sinfield to rugby union at the end of last season but has spent much of the campaign sidelined through injury.

“It is the toughest period I have had,” he admits. “Personally it has not been a great year with injuries. It has not been how I expected it to work out having been named captain.

“I have not been out on the field enough to lead. I am still trying to get my own game in order and it is really hard trying to do that and sort everyone else’s game as well.

“We probably have lacked a bit of leadership at times. The players need to take more responsibility.

“The biggest disappointment is the way we have conceded points over the last few weeks. We have lacked a little bit of passion and that needs to change pretty quickly.

“We are not in a great place. The table doesn’t lie; where we are reflects how we are playing.

“We have to stop talking and get out on the field and do it.”

The veteran


Jamie Jones-Buchanan made just 11 appearances in their treble-winning campaign last season

Another product of the club’s academy and one-club man, Jamie Jones-Buchanan, missed most of last season because of a ruptured quad tendon.

The six-time Grand Final winner returned in March but has enjoyed only two wins in 13 appearances.

“It is like being at the bottom of a well with the Super League clubs pressing down and the water from the clubs in the league below threatening to drown you,” he explains.

“I have never been in this position before and I don’t ever want to be here again.

“You learn a lot about people’s bravery and character in tough times like this. It is very dark and we are feeling about in the darkness.

“Recent performances have been dismal. No-one is a bigger fan than me so I know where the supporters are coming from. There are a lot of things we need to clean up.


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“When you start losing games, missing tackles, confidence goes and you start to doubt yourself, you become tentative and stop being the person you were.

“Those players [Sinfield and the retired Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai] have become white unicorns.

“We went through a process from 1997 to 2004 that made us the players we were. Those processes led to us doing the treble in 2015. You can’t bolt on new players to the old system. They have not had the same experiences.

“Who wants to get relegated? That is awful. Looking at it objectively, at least Super League is not being monopolised. But for us it is a nightmare. People are treating me like I am going through some sort of illness and it is not nice.

“The biggest skyscrapers have the deepest foundations. At the moment, we are at the bottom of the foundations. But we will dig ourselves out of it. We will build the biggest tower again.

“Brian McDermott understands what is going on. He is brilliant. I cannot envisage a coach dealing with this situation better than he is. He will never walk away.”

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