Leeds Rhinos: What a difference twelve months makes

6 October 2017, 18:36

They are Super League's most successful team. They have done the treble. They have won the competition from a fifth-placed finish - twice. But would a Grand Final victory in 2017 be Leeds Rhinos'

A choked Brian McDermott suggests so. All he could manage after his side's gritty 18-16 semi-final win over Hull FC was "we finished ninth last season".

Yes - 2016 was really a season to forget. The treble winners soon turned into relegation candidates. The Golden Generation faded into the distance. A club without Kevin Sinfield looked lost on the field. So, how have Leeds gone from walking disaster to potential champions in the space of a year?

Improved attack

There's some interesting things to take from Leeds' attack statistics this year compared to last season.

We have split 2016 into the regular season and Qualifiers, with the Rhinos' numbers jumping significantly in those final seven games, thumping Featherstone, London and Batley.

But in the regular campaign in 2016, the side could only manage three tries per game, as opposed to their total of 4.2 a game in 2017.

The work off the ball is better too this season, supporting 2.2 breaks a game compared to the 1.9 in the regular season last year.

Despite making less average metres per game in 2017 compared to 2016, the Rhinos are working harder to get off the floor, playing the ball quickly on average of 18.5 times a game this year compared to last season's regular figure of 14.4.

Look at the error count, too. A dip of 14 a match last season, down to 11.8 per game in 2017. Some serious improvement in attack then for McDermott's side.

Improved defence

With the attack clearly functioning better, how have the Rhinos improved in defence? Well, the points conceded is an obvious place to start.

They shipped 576 in the regular campaign alone in 2016, a mere 47 less than the regular campaign and Super 8s put together in 2017.

The Rhinos were also doing more work in defence last season, making 344.6 average tackles a match in that regular season, compared to 333.5 this year. And that's contributed to a drop in missed tackles. Leeds have missed on average 8.7 less tackles a game in 2017 compared to the regular 2016 season. Much improved.

Personnel changes

Eyebrows were raised at Leeds' recruitment following 2016. They signed just one first team player - Matt Parcell. And the Australian had the boots of James Segeyaro to fill. But what a job he's done.

The hooker is the Rhinos' only Dream Team representative in 2017, despite their second-place finish. He's added dynamism from dummy half, offering pace around the ruck. Parcell is the club's top try scorer with 17 and has made the second most assists with 16.

His defence isn't bad either. Parcell's 1018 tackles is the most of any Rhinos player. His partnership with Adam Cuthbertson has proved critical too.

The hooker supports his prop forward, well known for getting his hands out of the tackle and offloading. That's led to plenty of clean breaks, and creation of scoring opportunities for the Rhinos.

Only one key new signing then, but Brian McDermott made a key positional change too. He moved Joel Moon out of the centres and into the halves for a Round 5 win over Wakefield.

Bar two games, he's stayed there and it's worked. It was Moon, not Parcell, who won the club's internal award for Player of the Season, the first overseas player to have done so.

He's added an unpredictability to the Rhinos attack, scoring 15 tries and providing nine assists. His combination with McGuire has worked, with the captain organising the attack and assuming much of the kicking responsibilities, allowing Moon to do his off-the-cuff thing.

Less injuries

Leeds have lost a few to injury this season. Brett Ferres, Keith Galloway and Brett Delaney in particular have all struggled long term for fitness in 2017. But so many key players missed large chunks of the season last year.

In Ryan Hall, Tom Briscoe and Joel Moon, you're missing three experienced, quality campaigners from the outside backs, with both wingers in particular featuring in less than half of the regular season games.

2016's new captain Danny McGuire played just ten times in the regular campaign as Leeds slipped towards the Qualifiers, while Adam Cuthbertson missed a proportion of games too. And Stevie Ward only returned for the Qualifiers.

Beau Falloon was signed as the hooker for 2016, but he managed just 16 regular games, leaving Leeds well short in that area. In contrast, Matt Parcell played over double that amount in 2017.

It would be hard for any side to compete with that number of injuries; indeed just ask Shaun Wane and Wigan in 2017. Brian McDermott deserved more luck in the injury department this season, and it seems he got it.

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