Ahead of their Challenge Cup Final clash against Wembley tomorrow, Brian McDermott has revealed just how tough his first year in charge of Leeds Rhinos was – calling it the most challenging time of his coaching career.
McDermott eventually steered the Rhinos to Grand Final glory in his first season in charge – but things were far from straightforward, as the club finished a lowly fifth on the Super League ladder. Combined with a cup defeat against Warrington the same year, McDermott admits the club stuck together through tough times to ultimately triumph, as he revealed just how tough that first season in charge was.
“They were a good team but there was a time when I didn’t think I’d make a Friday,” McDermott said. “Gary (Hetherington) went through his due diligence when he employed me and I didn’t take the job starry-eyed thinking ‘that’s going to be a great job because they’ve got great players therefore we will win’.
“I was here as an assistant and I do know how challenging it can be, and I do know how close a win and a loss are to each other, regardless of the scoreboard. I was under no illusions how big the job was and we had a bit of a ropey season.
“Certainly that ropey first half of the season in 2011, that was challenging. I still look back at that as the most challenging moments of my career. Probably because of what went on outside the bubble because we were solid all year – the players, the staff, Gary, Chris Gibson, Rob Oates, the administrators of the club; we were solid all year.
“The fact that we won it that year was a feather in the cap for sticking together and doing what you believe in. Again, Gary didn’t rush his decision to employ me and I didn’t go into it starry-eyed so when it got tough you keep faith and hold firm to your beliefs.”
After so many near misses in the last 15 years, McDermott admits he is keen to be the man to finally end Leeds’ horrific hoodoo with the Challenge Cup – but admits the game could be as tight as a bounce of the ball determining who gets their hands on the famous trophy come 5pm Saturday afternoon.
“Of course it would mean a lot, absolutely. I want to win it, of course I do, but I don’t think I’ve got a right to win it,” he added.
“We’ve got to play well and I’ve got to coach well building up to it. If we can all do that well and then we get Cas on gameday and get a bounce of the ball and a couple of refereeing calls, it could literally come down to that.
“You can track back a try sometimes to a bounce of the ball or a call from the referee. That’s not to say you blame it on that, you can still deal with it, but quite often on gameday in a Challenge Cup there are some unfortunate events that happen. Some of it is in our hands, of course it is, but a lot of it you’re hoping things go your way.”
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