Burrow inspires reviving Rhinos
Five things we learned from Leeds Rhinos’ season
1: The Rhinos’ decision to sign Luke Gale from Castleford Tigers was doubted by some people, but paid dividends as Gale was appointed captain and led the Rhinos to Challenge Cup success and the Super League play-offs.
2: Leeds coach Richard Agar initially got his job on the back of the sacking of David Furner in 2019, but now his position looks secure in the foreseeable future.
3: The Rhinos gave Super League debuts to eight young players in 2020, and while not all of them will have long-term careers at Headingley, their performances suggested that the future of the club is in good hands.
4: The Rhinos’ pre-season began with a shattering blow when Rob Burrow revealed to the world that he was suffering from motor neurone disease (MND). At the time Burrow, a Leeds icon, was on the coaching staff at the club. But the way the club responded to the news, the support given to Burrow and its incredible money-raising activity, particularly by Director of Rugby Kevin Sinfield, raised the stature of the club, both in the eyes of its own supporters and the wider world.
5: Leeds winger Ash Handley topped the Super League tryscoring chart with 20 tries and must be close to sealing the left-wing spot for England in this year’s World Cup.
At the start of the season the Rhinos suffered a disappointing 4-30 home defeat against Hull FC, suggesting they were in for a tough season, but in the end they improved dramatically and were able to finish in fifth place in the Super League table, but four weeks after defeating Salford 17-16 to win the Challenge Cup at Wembley, they fell 26-14 to the Catalans Dragons at Warrington’s Halliwell Jones Stadium on the opening weekend of the play-offs.
On 28 February the Rhinos hosted Warrington Wolves at Headingley and hammered them 36-0. In that game Richie Myler, who had been thought by some observers to be on his way out of the club, came on as a substitute for the injured Jack Walker at fullback and played well enough to hold on to the position for the remainder of the season.
On their second game back in action in August after the lockdown Leeds faced St Helens at Headingley on 10 August and they received a 48-0 shellacking from the Champions. It was the first time the Rhinos had been nilled at home since 17 March 1992 and it demonstrated how much ground they have to make up to reach the standard set by St Helens in 2020.
Unlike in his final two years at Castleford, Luke Gale avoided serious injury in 2020 and was able to give the Rhinos leadership on the field, confidence and a sense of togetherness, while he also forged a great relationship with Leeds coach Richard Agar.
Best young player
Harry Newman became the first player born in the year 2000 when he made his Leeds debut at the age of 17 in 2017. Still a teenager at the start of the 2020 season, he was already an established first-grade star, making twelve appearances before his season crashed to a halt when he broke his leg in two places against Hull Kingston Rovers on 24 September.
Best overseas player
Prop forward Matt Prior joined the Rhinos at the start of the season on a two-year contract after an NRL career that saw him win Grand Finals with St George Illawarra Dragons (2010) and Cronulla Sharks (2016). And he proved to be a valuable signing, shoring up the Rhinos’ defence, making 420 tackles and carrying the ball strongly, in particular with an outstanding performance at Wembley as the Rhinos lifted the Challenge Cup.
Try of the year
It perhaps wasn’t the most spectacular try of the year, but Ash Handley’s first try at Wembley (one of two he scored on the day) came from a ball that was moved beautifully to the left, with a superb catch and pass from Richie Myler being the crucial assist that gave the Rhinos a half-time 12-6 lead.
Quote of the year
“Rob’s with us in spirit, that’s for sure. He’s been an inspiration for us. It’s really fitting that we’ve done it this year for Rob and it’s Luke, with the number seven on his shirt, that has come up with the big play.” Leeds coach Richard Agar paying tribute to Rob Burrow and Luke Gale after the Rhinos’ Wembley triumph.
Image of the year
It has to be the photo of Rub Burrow greeting Leeds director of rugby Kevin Sinfield after one of his seven marathons that raised more than £2.5 million for Burrow’s family and the Motor Neurone Disease Association.
The field-goal kicked by Luke Gale in the 76th minute that secured the Challenge Cup at Wembley with a 17-16 victory against a gallant Salford Red Devils.
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