Season Review: Leeds Rhinos
The Rhinos elongated season came to an abrupt end on Friday 13th November with an opening round play-off defeat to Steve McNamara’s consistently inconsistent Catalans Dragons. Whilst an improvement on 2019, it still is not where Rhinos feel they should be.
The season started (what feels a very long time ago) full of confidence for Rhinos. Richard Agar, in his first full season in charge, would’ve been hoping to return the Club to their title winning ways that their fans have become accustomed to over the years. However, a lacklustre opening day defeat to Hull FC suggested there may still have been work to be done.
In a sporting context, it’s fair to say lockdown came at the worst possible time for the Rhinos as following the 30-4 defeat to Hull FC in round 1, they found form with four straight wins over Hull KR, Toronto Wolfpack, Salford Red Devils and an emphatic 36-0 win over Warrington Wolves in their last outing until August.
With the welcome return of Rugby League after lockdown came a Rhinos team chomping at the bit to pick up where they left off in March…however with 12 minutes left on the clock against Simon Woolford’s Giants it looked like post-lockdown was going to be repeat of round 1 as Leeds limped to defeat…but all that changed in 15 drama filled minutes!
Frustratingly for their fans, Rhinos followed up this greatest of escapes with an unenthusiastic 48-0 loss to St Helens and a 28-10 loss to Wigan Warriors.
The business end of the season saw the Rhinos miss opportunities to secure a solid play-off spot and it was only the late change of format that saw them given the opportunity to make the Grand Final.
Away from Super League, the Rhinos did manage to bring home some silverware in 2020 thanks to a dramatic drop goal winner from Luke Gale to clinch victory over Salford Red Devils in the Coral Challenge Cup Final.
Player of the season
A difficult one this, as whilst the team didn’t perform as they had would’ve collectively hoped, a handful of players did stand out above the rest.
Newly signed for the 2020 campaign, Matt Prior provided some much needed defensive security and power in the middles for Leeds. His efforts didn’t go unnoticed either as he collected the Club’s Player of the Year award.
A break-through year for one of the Rhinos Academy products saw Harry Newman cement a regular spot in the starting XIII before a double break in his leg ended his season prematurely. However, Newman showed enough in his 11 appearances to convince the voting panel that he had earned the Super League Young Player of the Year award for 2020.
Finally, Ash Handley showed his class again in 2020 and therefore is our Rhinos player of the season. Following heartbreak in 2019, when Tommy Makinson pipped him to Top Try Scorer on the final night of the season, Handley again produced for the Rhinos and topped the Super League charts, crossing the whitewash 14 times in 17 appearances.
Alongside claiming Top Try Scorer, Handley also topped the Metre Maker charts for 2020, almost 200 metres clear of his nearest rival. Whilst still only 24 years old, Handley has become an established first teamer at Leeds, already notching up over 100 Super League appearances.
If Luke Gale was an NFL player, he’d definitely be classed as “special teams”, lined up to clinch dramatic match winning moments. Throughout his career he’s made a name for himself as a cool customer when it comes to slotting over the one-pointers.
August at Headingley was no different. Gale’s Golden Point drop goal broke Giants’ hearts and earned the Rhinos an unlikely 27-26 victory from being 26-10 down with just 12 minutes left on the clock. Step up Luke Briscoe, Alex Mellor and Konrad Hurrell with quickfire tries before Gale did what he does best and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
Whilst the Rhinos will no doubt have been pleased to make the play-offs in what was a difficult season for all involved, it won’t have been the way they wanted to do it.
There were definite signs of improvement from 2019 season, but still work to be done on improving consistency and game management to make sure 2021 steps it up again for Richard Agar’s team.
New signings may be limited in 2021 due to the financial constraints Covid has placed on clubs, so it will be interesting to see what extra Agar can eke out of his current squad for another tilt at the Super League title.