Leeds Rhinos have not been challenging for the title in the last two years, but could things be about to change for the eight-time Grand Final winners?
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Leeds Rhinos collected their eighth Super League Grand Final title in 2017 when they hammered Castleford Tigers 24-6 at Old Trafford. Since then, things haven’t exactly gone according to plan, they had a miserabe defence of their title in 2018 when they finished ninth and had to enter the Qualifers to save their Super League place.
The following season the Qualifiers and Super 8s were scrapped, but that didn’t really help Leeds as they had another awful campaign. They finished eighth after the weekly rounds, a staggering 28 points behind league leaders St Helens.
How can a team ending one campaign in eighth be considered as one of the teams to beat in 2020? Well, Leeds are not a normal team, their history is what defines them. They can never be ruled out, if they are there and there about heading into the play-offs then they have the experience to clinch their ninth Grand Final success.
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The Rhinos changed their coach midway through last season, they opted to fire Australian David Furner and replace him with Richard Agar. The former Hull FC, Wakefield Trinity and France head coach did enough to help Leeds retain their Super League status. He was handed a permanent deal last September on an annual rolling deal.
At first, a lot of supporters were unhappy with the appointment. But Agar has enough experience to coach a team to the title and he is one of the most highly respected coaches in the game. He has made some shrewd signings and couple them with the current stars in his squad, we could see the real Leeds Rhinos in action this season.
After the last couple of season, the Rhinos would be happy with a top four finish. But that won’t be their aim. If they could scoop the League Leaders Shield in 2020, then the past two years will soon be forgotten about.
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As already mentioned, Agar has made some decent signings with Luke Gale, Alex Mellor, Kruise Leeming, Matt Prior and Rhys Evans all joining the Rhinos.
The star signing for Leeds in 2020 is the capture of former Man of Steel Luke Gale. The 31-year-old scrum-half, who started his career in Leeds’ academy, joined the Rhinos from Castleford Tigers after being out injured from October 2018 with knee and Achilles problems. Gale, who won the Man of Steel award in 2017, is one of the best players in Super League. If he can recreate the form he was in before his injuries, then Leeds will be pushing the likes of St Helens, Warrington and Wigan at the top of the league.
Gale is a match winner, he can score and create tries and he can kick goals as well. If he stays fit then he will be near the top of the list for leading points scorer. If he does that then he will inevitably be one of the frontrunners for Man of Steel yet again.
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Even though he was playing in a poor team, Ash Handley came out with a lot of credit last season. He finished second on the leading try scorer list with 22 tries, just one behind overall winner – Tommy Makinson from champions St Helens. Handley is a quality finisher and can play either wing or centre.
His best position is winger as he has pace to burn. His centre partner is expected to be Tongan powerhouse Konrad Hurrell, if that is the case then Handley will score a pan full of tries again. Hurrell knocks off defenders in his sleep, if he continues to that then Handley will benefit greatly. The 23-year-old will feel he has a lot to prove this season. He missed out on the initial Great Britain Lions squad, but was then called up as a late replacement and flown out to Papua New Guinea for the final tour match and then wasn’t even selected. He will want to prove to England and Great Britain coach Wayne Bennet that he should have been taken on the whole tour. He will be pushing Makinson all the way in the try scoring stakes and that can only be good news for the Rhinos.
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Leeds have lost a few players in the off-season. Jamie Jones-Buchanan has retired, while Ashton Golding, Owen Trout and Brett Ferres have all moved onto pastures new. They have also lost former Australia international Trent Merrin after he returned back home to Australia. Merrin was reported never to have been happy in England and he lasted just one season before re-joining his first ever club – St George Illawarra. Not many Leeds fans were that upset because the hierarchy quickly replaced him with Matt Prior.
Prior is an experienced player who played with St George Illawarra and Cronulla Sharks and he has also played State of Origin with New South Wales. He will add a lot to the Leeds pack and will be a first class mentor for the likes of Ava Seumanufagai, Mikolaj Oledzki and Muizz Mustapha.
Prior is not a flair player, he will put in the hard yards and will tackle anything that moves. Sometimes that can be enough to get noticed. If Leeds are going well, then he could be a surprise contender for Man of Steel.
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