Life of Brian Under Siege by Warriors
Following a heavy defeat by Wigan Warriors at home, Leeds Rhinos’ season continues to stutter. LS Sport Editor Andrew Belt reviews the game in question as well as what lies ahead for the Yorkshire powerhouse…
A little over the halfway point of the 2012 Super League season and the story for the Leeds Rhinos is very similar to that of last year’s campaign.
Over the summer, the Rhinos struggled to consolidate their top 8 Play-Off place and question marks were being placed over Brian McDermott in his first season in charge.
An end-of-season resurgence put paid to any suggestions of his suitability to the role as Leeds stormed to victory in the Grand Final and secured a memorable World Club Challenge win in February.
The marked the contrast in the team’s performances quickly thrust McDermott into the ‘Messiah’ category but as the 2012 campaign still fails to ignite, belief in the main man is faltering once more.
Images of McDermott on the TV screens prompted boos from the Rhinos faithful while the loyal travelling horde of Wigan fans mocked the disgruntled home support with renditions of Leeds songs, such was the gulf in class as the Warriors ran out 50-8 winners at Headingley on Friday night.
Ryan Hall tries in the first and second half provided Leeds with their only points of the evening as touchline theatrics from Ronnie the Rhino received the most enthusiastic reactions from the native Loiners.
Encounters between the Rhinos and the Warriors, alongside fixtures of these two involving St Helens, are usually the most hotly-anticipated games of the season and, having dispatched of St Helens at the Magic Weekend, Wigan travelled to Leeds as league leaders and widely expected to pick apart a home team languishing in the last Play-Off places.
The need to maintain concentration levels at all times, from Leeds’ perspective, would have been touched upon after Wigan’s late flurry of points in the corresponding fixture last year that saw the brilliance of Sam Tomkins inspire the Warriors to snatch a draw from 22-4 down with 15 minutes to play.
Wigan have been devastating this season, with Tomkins underlining his value to Super League and the worldwide game, and, if offered a draw before the fixture, it would be the Rhinos rather than the Warriors who would snatch your arm off to ensure that outcome.
Snubbed England defender, Rio Ferdinand, was in attendance and any loyalties towards the rugby league team of the city he once captained would have been hard to rely on as Wigan engineered the largest home defeat for Leeds since 1996.
The Warriors were 8-0 up after 11 minutes thanks to tries from Jeff Lima and Liam Farrell that seemed straightforward enough until replays proved that neither player had control of the ball when touching down.
Referee James Child consequently became the villain of the piece for the majority of a crowd of 16, 113 spectators and did little to win over the critical onlookers in a mixed performance from the young official.
Hall went over after quarter of an hour’s rugby but Kevin Sinfield failed to convert his goal attempt on a rare scoreless night for the stalwart.
Rob Burrow was introduced after 20 minutes and added some much needed creative spark but Wigan were looking likely to score on every attack and tries from Sean O’ Loughlin and George Carmont extended the lead to 22-4.
The game was slipping from Leeds’ grasp as tensions on the terraces and on the pitch intensified with tempers frayed at this pivotal point of the clash but for all of the Rhinos’ pressure, the spell ended with Wigan’s Thomas Leuluai scoring the Warriors’ fifth try just before half-time.
Understandably, a response was to be expected from the Rhinos in the second-half but, if anything, the home side were even more limp than they had been in the first 40 minutes and allowed Tomkins the freedom of Headingley Stadium as he skipped through the brittle Leeds defence to afford Josh Charnley the opportunity to score his first try in the 49th minute.
Anthony Gelling replicated Charnley’s effort ten minutes later before Hall went over the line to add something approaching an air of respectability to the score-line.
However, late Wigan tries from Leuluai and Brett Finch completed the humiliation for the reigning champions.
Wigan were outstanding and coach, Shaun Wane, expressed his surprise at the ease by which his depleted side (missing 5 key players through injury) excelled on their route to victory, extending the Warriors’ lead at the top of the table in the process.
McDermott gave the impression of speaking like a sullen schoolboy after the match, though, with a tricky away game at Warrington next and a key stage of the season looming the Rhinos will have to buck up their ideas and try to gain inspiration by their form towards the final months of last season.
The trouble is that the consensus points to a lack of belief in McDermott’s powers and a swing towards him being a ‘naughty boy’ rather than the ‘Messiah’.
Hopefully, an improvement will be noted by the time Leeds take on Wigan in the Challenge Cup Semi-Final in mid-July but for now, the jury’s still out.