When Leeds Rhinos announced on 21 April this year that Rohan Smith would be the club’s new coach to replace Richard Agar, the club were sitting in eleventh place with just one win and a draw from their eight games.
They were one point ahead of Toulouse Olympique and five points outside the top six, with Warrington Wolves then being in sixth place.
The Rhinos now sit in sixth place with 23 points from 23 games and few would bet against them retaining their place in the top six for this season’s play-offs, particularly after their victory over the Robins on Friday night.
It’s been a remarkable improvement under Smith, despite some factors that might have hindered their recovery – in particular injuries and suspensions, with the Rhinos claiming the unwanted record of having more cards than any other club this season.
For this game alone they were missing four suspended players – David Fusitu’a, Aidan Sezer, Rhyse Martin and Matt Prior. Because of suspensions and injuries, Smith had only named 19 squad players prior to the match.
And one of the worst sights of the Rugby League season was Harry Newman limping off the pitch with what appeared to be a hamstring injury.
Newman is one of the most exciting players to have appeared in Super League for many years, but he does seem susceptible to injury. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that he will recover from this latest setback in time for England’s World Cup campaign.
And things were certainly no better for Rovers’ interim coach Danny McGuire, who has been plagued with injuries and in this match suffered yet more rotten luck.
The departure of his captain Shaun Kenny-Dowall early in the game probably sealed their fate, given his massive importance to the side. Given that he is now likely to be out for the season, it’s very difficult to see the Robins qualifying for the play-offs, given that they are three points outside the six with just four games remaining.
But despite all that, it was a wonderful game played in front of an atmospheric Hull KR crowd and the home team certainly gave it a shake, leading 10-0 before SKD had to leave the pitch.
The Robins had a halfback combination of Jez Litten and Elliot Minchella, and I thought Litten was a revelation, particularly with his kicking. I’ve admired him for a long time, but after his performance on Friday I admire him even more.
He gave the assists for three of the Robins’ four tries and I wasn’t too surprised to hear McGuire after the game predicting a future England spot for him. The Robins are clearly a potent force when they have Litten and Matt Parcell on the field at the same time.
For the Rhinos, I was equally impressed by Brad Dwyer, who was given a rare start by his coach and who rewarded Rohan Smith with a stunning try in the 15th minute that steadied Leeds nerves after Rovers’ bright start to the game. And throughout the game he was a handful.
Leeds seem to be well provided for at dummy-half but I’m still a little surprised that they are prepared to let Dwyer leave the club at the end of the season.
And I wonder what they will do when Richie Myler finally calls it a day. For much of his career I believe that Myler has been one of the most under-rated players in the game. On Friday night his two first-half tries, combining with Dwyer superbly for the second one, set the Rhinos on the path to victory.
They always seem to know how to time their good form for the latter part of the season. I would be amazed if they don’t now secure fifth or sixth spot after the regular season and they will surely be a stern opponent for any side in the opening weekend of the play-offs.
They clearly have a squad that can still battle out victories when they are seriously under-strength and if they can get some of their big-hitters back again, while avoiding any more suspensions, they are a good outside bet to win the Super League title again from fifth, or even sixth position in the table.
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