The Garry Schofield Column: What next for ‘clueless’ Leeds Rhinos?

Less than six months ago, St Helens and Leeds were slugging it out for a place in the Grand Final. 

But now, the two are like chalk and cheese as the Saints go marching on in their bid for an unprecedented fourth straight Super League title and a third under Kristian Woolf while the Rhinos and Richie Agar are in a difficult place – and I’m not just talking about their third-bottom position in the table. 

I like and respect Richie, who is someone I know well and is steeped in Rugby League and hugely experienced, and it gives me no pleasure whatsoever to ask the question, but it can’t be ducked.

Will he still be coach when Leeds go to Saints a fortnight on Friday? 

The Rhinos have two games before then, a tricky trip to Salford this Friday, then a Challenge Cup sixth-round tie – and there’s a huge amount hanging on them. 

If things don’t improve quickly, I could see Gary Hetherington making a change. 

The best word I can think of to describe that performance against Hull at Headingley on Thursday was clueless. 

Leeds were dreadful, and I don’t think I can remember a time when the fans have booed them off the field in two successive home games, which is what happened after Catalans won 10-4, then Hull claimed their 31-8 success. 

The Black and Whites played well to respond to that defeat against Castleford by picking up their third win of the season, and I’m happy for Brett Hodgson. 

Before this season started, I identified him and Ian Watson at Huddersfield as being the two coaches most under pressure to perform. 

But Hull have started strongly while the Giants made it four wins from five by beating Castleford at the John Smiths on Saturday and are up in second place. 

And I promise not to keep going on about it, but why on earth isn’t Hull star Jake Connor in the England squad?

Shaun Wane keeps saying he must do this and he must do that if he is to be considered, but why isn’t he looking at his club form, getting him involved in England training camps and working out how he can utilise a player with such valuable talents when England take on the Combined Nations All Stars in June? 

Going back to Leeds, who could quite easily have suffered the humiliation of being nilled at home by Hull, the last time I can recall such a dire display is when they were hammered 66-10 at Castleford in March 2017. 

Brian McDermott was typically defiant after the defeat and, of course, led Leeds to Grand Final success – over Castleford – that season. 

But this is a different time, a different team and a different coach, and as things stand, it’s very hard to see Leeds being involved at Old Trafford in September. 

They lack power, and any kind of intimidation, in the pack, and from what we’ve seen so far, there’s no creativity or that crucial organisation coming from the halfbacks. 

Aidan Sezer looks like a crab, the way he keeps going sideways, while other than the occasional show and go, Blake Austin isn’t offering much at all. 

There’s not enough quality among the outside backs to take full advantage of the chances that are created and, other than in their one win at Wakefield, Leeds simply aren’t scoring anything like enough tries to give themselves a chance of winning matches. 

I should imagine some harsh words have been spoken within the walls of Headingley, and there’s no doubt that Richie is in David Furner territory. 

Here are my player markings from the match… 

Leeds: Walker 5, Fusitu’a 5, Briscoe 4, Sutcliffe 4, Handley 5, Austin 3, Sezer 3, Oledzki 4, Johnson 4, Prior 4, Gannon 4, Martin 4, Tetevano 4. 

Hull: Connor 9, Shaul 8, Vulikijapani 6, Griffin 6, Swift 8, McNamara 8, Lovodua 8, Evans 8, Houghton 8, Satae 8, Sao 8, Savelio 8, Brown 8. 

Saints hold all the aces

As I said earlier in the column, St Helens and Leeds are like chalk and cheese, and as I said last week, winning every league game this year is surely a goal for a side that has started with five from five. 

It’s hard to see who can stop the machine as they prepare to face Toulouse over in France on Saturday, having seen off Warrington in such convincing fashion on Friday. 

Machine is a good way to describe them, because they are churning out those victories almost mechanically. 

They’ve not only got the best prop in the competition in Alex Walmsley, but also the best pack, and to be honest, I don’t think any other in Super League comes close. 

They power the team and lay such a strong platform for the others to do their part of the operation. 

Saints also have that vital creativity in the likes of Jack Welsby, Jonny Lomax and Lewis Dodd, who has started the season superbly. He and Lomax are really setting their stall out to be England’s starting combination for the World Cup. 

Then the oil in the machine is provided by the outside backs, who so often look capable of crossing that white line and racking up the points. 

Saints have got 156 so far (and credit Huddersfield for their 150), and in another very telling statistic, conceded only 28. The second-lowest tally is that of Catalans, with 72. 

There will be times when Woolf has injuries and suspensions to deal with, and he might well want to rest players from time to time, but he has a strong and carefully-assembled squad at his disposal. 

Saints have certainly set a high benchmark for the season and they have been good to watch into the bargain. 

For a Toulouse side beaten in that four-pointer at Wakefield on Friday, facing Saints is a tough old proposition, even allowing for that spirited show in their last home game against Wigan. I’m going for Saints by 32, while on the same evening, I think Warrington will bounce back from their comprehensive loss at the Totally Wicked Stadium and see off Wakefield by 16 at the Halliwell Jones. 

The night before, I’m going for Catalans by 16 against Hull KR and, sorry Leeds fans, Salford to win by eight. 

I think Wigan will recover from their poor show against Catalans on Saturday by defeating Castleford by 14 on Thursday. 

And Sunday’s match-up of Hull and Huddersfield is going to be very interesting indeed – Hull to edge it by seven. 

Barrow doing it right

The last word goes to my old club Barrow, who I’d like to congratulate, not just on a great start to the Championship campaign under Paul Crarey, but also for the way they have patiently strengthened off the pitch as well as on it under the leadership of Chairman Steve Neale. 

They do a huge amount of work in the community, much of which goes unseen beyond the boundaries of what is a real sports-loving town. 

Paul is a good and experienced coach who has built a side which is not just strong, but also entertaining. 

He has kept the bulk of the squad after last year’s League 1 title triumph and made some telling additions, not least halfback Jarrod Sammut, and I like the way he has dipped into the amateur scene, which is so strong up in Cumbria.  

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