2015 saw Leeds Rhinos’ all-conquering team featuring their golden generation start to disband and, after winning all the domestic honours they could that year, Kevin Sinfield, Kylie Leuluai and Jamie Peacock all departed the Headingley club following retirement. The season that followed was, by any measure, a poor one where they failed to reach finish in the top eight and, instead, struggled into the Middle 8s. The Rhinos faithful, therefore, will be praying that their team avoid such a fate in 2018 as they prepare to line up without club legends Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow in their team for the first time since 2001.
It could be suggested that Leeds are now much better prepared to deal with the losses of club legends and, while that word is often overused, it can’t be argued that both McGuire and Burrow don’t deserve to have the term attributed to them. Indeed, 900 appearances for Super League’s most successful club between them wouldn’t come had they not possessed the quality and mentality to stay at the top of the game for pretty much their whole professional careers. Both players, throughout their time at the club, had to adapt their games as their experience grew and physical capabilities changed. For example, McGuire became a master tactician and, after stepping into Kevin Sinfield’s sizeable boots as captain, became the club’s guiding influence from half back and, in contrast to his prolific try scoring days as a youngster, he progressed to become a creator and leader – characteristics which were shown, in all their glory, in his man of the match performance as Leeds pulled off an upset by beating Castleford Tigers in the 2017 Grand Final. Unlike McGuire, who was a fixture in the Rhinos’ XIII for sixteen years, Pontefract born Burrow had to adapt to an impact role towards the end of his career. Brian McDermott himself acknowledged that the 5 ft 5 in dynamo was too important to leave out of his team and ensured there was a space in the squad for him. It was, however, not in his favoured scrum half berth and he instead became an interchange hooker, playing second fiddle to a handful of other less illustrious names. Yet, when given the opportunity, he really did show that he still had the ability to star for his boyhood team. For example, late August saw Burrow called up as a late starter to replace the injured Joel Moon in a big match at home to Hull FC in the Super 8s and the former Great Britain star took his chance by putting in a huge performance in another huge match, scoring a try in the process. His try against Warrington Wolves in an early 40-0 win showed as well his acceleration, pace and finishing ability as, in the 80th minute, he ran two thirds of the pitch and skinned Stefan Ratchford to finish it. Both players will, unquestionably, be missed by the Rhinos in the future and, while Burrow will be remaining at the club in a junior coaching role, Danny McGuire won’t have to wait long to face his former club as the second match of the season sees Hull KR, his new team, travelling to Leeds and Elland Road for what will no doubt be an emotional homecoming.
2018, then, will see their replacements come into the Rhinos’ seventeen and, while inexperienced players or Super League novices were brought into replace the three departures in 2016, that definitely isn’t the case this time. Richie Myler, brought in from Catalans Dragons, will be expected to be the steady player to guide the Rhinos round the park for the next few years – especially with the maverick Joel Moon likely to continue in the stand off role he made his own in 2017. Indeed, at 27, Myler is young enough to have a good few years in the Rhinos’ engine room and, as a man of 245 Super League appearances with Widnes, Salford, Warrington and the Perpignan club, he unquestionably has the experience to handle the pressure of playing for Super League’s defending champions. Indeed, speaking after the club’s annual festive match away, this year, to Wakefield Trinity, Super League’s most successful coach, McDermott said that “he made sure everybody else played well and that’s what we want the halves to do, ensure everybody else has a good platform to play from.” That is certainly what McGuire did for Leeds and it is vital, if they are to repeat their success of 2017, Myler steps up and continues to do so and live up to the promise shown on Boxing Day.
Brad Dwyer is the other big recruit for 2018 and, unlike Burrow – the man he is set to ‘replace’ – he is a bonafide hooker. At 24 years old, the man who made his debut for Warrington Wolves in 2012 is set to continue his off-the-bench role for the Rhinos that he fulfilled at the Halliwell Jones Stadium but, as outlined by his new head coach McDermott, Matt Parcell shouldn’t rest on his laurels after a sterling debut season. The USA head coach remarked that “Brad has told me he has bigger aspirations than just a back-up and that ambition was a big attraction. He is a determined character who is willing to test himself in our squad and I think we can bring the very best out of him.” After signing on a two year contract, the Rhinos may well have a gem on their hands – Dwyer has, after all, learnt the trade surrounded by quality players at Warrington including Michael Monaghan, Mickey Higham and Daryl Clark. In addition to this, the fact he is already pushing 100 Super League appearances – a feat he should achieve in the middle of 2018 – should ensure that he doesn’t take much time to adjust to his new surroundings and, bearing all this in mind, it can’t be questioned that Leeds have two quality, genuine number 9s on their books for 2018. If Parcell can keep up the form that earned him a Dream Team spot in his debut season, Dwyer will have to play some unbelievable rugby league to oust the Australian but, as long as a partnership develops and both players compete with each other to earn a starting spot, the Rhinos will be very well set for 2018.
The horror show of 2016 will have definitely come to mind of Rhinos fans after they saw McGuire and Burrow turn out in the blue and amber for the last time. However, the promise shown by youngsters last season coupled with the recruitment of Myler and Dwyer – among others – in the off season should ensure the club continue to compete at the top of the table and for domestic honours on all fronts. The odds have been published by bookmakers recently looking at the favourites for silverware and Leeds aren’t in the top two or three, with Wigan, Castleford and St Helens ahead of the Headingley club on all fronts – but since when has favouritism affected the Rhinos and their success?