Talking Rugby League: Who can rescue Leeds Rhinos?

Leeds Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington keeps his cards very firmly close to his chest.

So this week it’s unlikely that we’ll find out which coaches he is speaking to in Australia until he is ready to reveal who he would like to appoint to take over from the departed Richard Agar.

Whether he will appoint an Australian is a moot point of course, because there may be no one over there of with the qualities he is searching for.

To be successful, a coach needs to have a thorough technical knowledge, an ability to relate to all the various personalities among the players he is likely to coach, as well as his fellow coaches in the club, while he also needs to be able to communicate effectively and inspire his charges to give that extra one per cent when it’s needed.

There are plenty of coaches around, both in Australia and England, who have a combination of some of those qualities, without necessarily having all of them.

Last time Leeds appointed an Australian coach, they plumped for David Furner, who only lasted for fourteen matches.

I’m quite certain that after that experience, Gary will be more careful than ever.

And yet with the threat of relegation potentially hanging over the club and the widely trumpeted fact that Leeds have enjoyed their worst start to a new season since 1898/9, there is absolutely no room for getting it wrong.

The risk for Gary is that he appoints someone with good credentials but who can’t fit into the culture at the Rhinos. That appeared to be Furner’s problem.

On the other hand, Gary hit the jackpot when he appointed Tony Smith almost 20 years ago and he needs someone now of Smith’s calibre.

Gary also hit the right note when he appointed Brian McDermott, who won countless trophies with the club during his time at Headingley.

And one important thing about McDermott was that he joined the Rhinos from another English club, which in his case was London Broncos (then named Harlequins), after having been an assistant coach at Leeds before that.

In other words, McDermott did have a fair appreciation of the culture of the Rhinos when he joined the club and that turned out to be important as the Rhinos enjoyed a golden era under him.

On the same basis, if I were Gary, one man I’d be sounding out is Wakefield coach Willie Poching, who has done a great job so far with Trinity and who was both a player and a coach at Leeds in the past.

Willie served a long apprenticeship, primarily under Tony Smith at Warrington and Hull KR and Ian Watson at Salford, before joining Wakefield to work initially as Chris Chester’s assistant.

Willie was apparently quite frustrated not to have got a head coach’s position earlier than he did.

But on the other hand we can now see the benefit of all that experience, with Wakefield currently on a four-game winning run and the team having forced its way into the top six.

It’s obvious that Wakefield wouldn’t want to let Willie go and, as he said to me in a press conference last week, he clearly feels a great deal of loyalty to Trinity.

Wakefield never published any details of the length of his contract and if he were to join another club this season, then his contract would clearly have to be broken and Wakefield would be entitled to a fee to compensate the club for losing its coach. And I’m quite certain that any such fee would be a big one.

But, in saying all that, I may be a million miles wide of the mark and Gary may have someone else in mind.

He must move quickly if the Rhinos continue to leak points to other clubs around them in the table.

The Rhinos’’ next three games are against Huddersfield, Castleford and Toulouse.

If they are at the bottom of the league by the time they have played those three matches, then I’m afraid they will really be in the mire.

What’s gone wrong at Warrington?

Daryl Powell made the point at Hull KR on Friday night that he has never during his career suffered the indignity of losing five matches in a row.

Two of those five were to Wakefield, but nonetheless it is surprising to see Warrington struggling as much as they are, especially after they had three straight wins at the start of the season.

Many people will no doubt have expected instant success when Daryl was appointed at the Halliwell Jones Stadium.

But that doesn’t always happen in Rugby League.

We only have to look back to last season, when Ian Watson struggled during his first year in charge at Huddersfield and the same was true of Brett Hodgson at Hull FC.

We have also seen a sticky start this season for Lee Radford at Castleford, although the Tigers seem to be gradually getting their act together now under their new coach. Their next two league fixtures are against Wakefield and Leeds over the Easter period and I’m sure those two fixtures will tell us an awful lot about the Tigers’ prospects for the remainder of the season.

Will James Roby really retire?

Congratulations to the great James Roby on his achievement of playing 500 games for St Helens.

This is his nineteenth season in first grade, which means that during his Saints career he has played an average of around 27 matches per season, which tells us a lot about how his body has held up in the face of all the bumps and bruises that come with Rugby League.

And when we saw his performance for Saints at Headingley on Friday night, I found it difficult to imagine that he really would retire at the end of this season.

He still looks full of energy, skill and commitment.

If he were to indicate that he would like to carry on next season, I’m sure every other club in Super League would like to sign him.

It’s so difficult to imagine a Super League competition without James Roby playing in it.

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