Leeds Rhinos Lose Patience With Brian McDermott But Could He Head For Wigan Warriors?

Leeds Rhinos Lose Patience With Brian McDermott But Could He Head For Wigan Warriors?
14:38, 02 Jul 2018

He is the most successful coach in Super League history, but not even that was enough to save Brian McDermott from the axe at Leeds Rhinos.

The 48-year-old was unseated on Sunday following the 46-8 defeat at Wigan three days previously, which marked the first time that Leeds had lost seven Super League games in succession.

McDermott’s departure was abrupt and felt harsh on a man who has delivered so much silverware to the Headingley trophy cabinet since taking the reins ahead of the 2011 campaign.

The Yorkshireman made a habit of proving his critics wrong, not least in his first season when Leeds came from fifth to reach the Grand Final and beat St Helens at Old Trafford.

The Rhinos repeated the trick again the following season and McDermott went on to preside over a glorious treble-winning campaign in 2015 and further Grand Final glory last term.

Throw in a couple of Challenge Cup final wins and a World Club Challenge and it is clear that McDermott’s record – unparalleled in Super League – deserves respect.

A former professional heavyweight boxer and Royal Marine who fought in Northern Ireland and in Iraq during the first Gulf War, McDermott is a complex, interesting and at times confrontational character.

The longest-serving coach in the competition, he was clearly taken aback by the news of his sacking.

He described himself in an official club statement as “extremely disappointed”, adding that “it was not a decision I agreed with”.

The announcement of McDermott’s departure on Monday morning reverberated throughout the sport, but was it really that surprising?

The Rhinos are way off the pace in the battle for a top-four spot and face an almighty scrap to avoid the indignity of another season in the dreaded Qualifiers as they did in 2016.

That was a traumatic campaign for all concerned at Headingley as Leeds struggled badly to cope in the aftermath of the departure of club legends Kevin Sinfield, Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai.

There was also the not insignificant matter of their Kirkstall training ground being flooded and completely wrecking the club’s pre-season training schedule.

But, Leeds being Leeds, they fought back from adversity to win a record-extending eighth Grand Final at Old Trafford against Castleford last October.

It was a glorious last hurrah for Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow in their final appearances for the club and also testament to McDermott’s coaching acumen.

This season, though, the Rhinos have looked anything but defending champions at times and the Wigan hammering was their worst display of the season.

Injuries have played a huge part in their current position, of course, with club captain and England centre Kallum Watkins’ season-ending knee injury in May a devastating blow.

Other key men such as Stevie Ward, Brad Singleton and Brett Delaney have also spent time on the sidelines and McDermott was missing up to a dozen players for the recent home loss to Catalans.

It should also be remembered that plenty of the games that Leeds have lost have been by the tightest of margins.

As always, plenty homegrown talent has come through the ranks at Headingley with the likes of teenagers Jack Walker and Mikolaj Oledzki impressively hugely this season.

But the memories of that nightmare 2016 campaign remain fresh in the mind of Hetherington, who said: “We’re at a critical position in the season where we do need to affect a change of direction.

“It’s not possible to change the playing group but we do have some players returning from injury.

“The senior management team, myself included, and the coaching department have to take stock because, while today’s announcement focuses on Brian McDermott, we all need to take collective responsibility.”

McDermott should return to the game at some point, and could he even now rock up at Wigan next?

Warriors chairman Ian Lenagan gave McDermott his first shot as a Super League head coach at Harlequins in 2006 – and McDermott is now a free agent.

As for Leeds, their current coaching team of Barry Eaton, Jimmy Lowes and Chev Walker will look to steady the ship, ensure the Rhinos finish in the top eight and perhaps even win the Challenge Cup.

Looking further ahead, names such as Brisbane Broncos assistant Jason Demetriou, Fiji coach Matt Adamson and South Sydney assistant Dave Furner will surely come onto Hetherington’s radar as Leeds look to make a big-name appointment with a proven track record.

Sporting Calendar