Stadium: The Emerald Headingley Stadium
Coach: David Furner
Last season’s finish: 2nd in Qualifiers
From the euphoric high of winning the Betfred Super League two years ago to a fight for survival in The Qualifiers rounded off a year of huge change and uncertainty for Leeds Rhinos.
A title defence was always going to be a tough ask considering the strength of the competition, but few could have predicted that the reigning champions would struggle quite so much.
The Rhinos made a promising start to the season, winning four of their opening five games, but a run of seven straight defeats in the second half of the regular season saw the Rhinos rapidly drop down the table the table and ultimately cost head coach Brian McDermott his job.
Club legend Kevin Sinfield returned to Headingley as Director of Rugby, but the damage was already done as Leeds were resigned to a spot in the Qualifiers. The Rhinos were able to secure their Super League spot with relative ease and resigned a fairly miserable season to the history books.
Despite having such a torrid time last time around, there are plenty of reasons to suggest that things will be much better for the Rhinos in 2019.
The appointment of former player and Canberra Raiders coach David Furner has given the club a fresh impetus and there are also some big name additions to the squad.
Leeds may have lost one big weapon from their arsenal in the form of club icon Ryan Hall, but the signing of Tongan International Konrad Hurell (9/2 – Top Leeds Tryscorer) is a huge sign of intent.
The explosive Centre was a stand out star in Tonga’s incredible 2017 World Cup campaign and boasts an impressive strike rate in the NRL, scoring 55 times in 116 appearances.
Hurrell will be joined at Headingley by compatriot Tuimoala Lolohea, another star from the 2017 World Cup. The half-back joins from West Tigers and Rhinos fans will be hoping they have finally found a natural replacement to Danny McGuire.
Furner has also added some international experience to the pack in the guise of former Australia and New South Wales forward Trent Merrin. The 29 year old has made over 200 NRL appearances for St George Illawarra and Penrith and will provide genuine leadership to the Rhinos camp.
If Furner can get all three of these Southern Hemisphere imports firing, Leeds will prove to be a handful for any side in 2019 and could once again find themselves amongst the play-off spots, and who knows, maybe even dark horses to be lifting the trophy come October.
What do the experts think?
Paul Sculthorpe: “After a shocking 2018, missing out on the top 8, the Rhino’s have gone all out to compete for silverware again! With new boss David Furner, and big name NRL signings Konrad Hurrell and Trent Merrin, they should be in the mix.”
Star man? Kallum Watkins
Predicted finish? 3rd
Jamie Peacock: “It really is a case of new beginnings for the Rhinos. They have made three international-class overseas signings and have a really experienced new coach in the shape of David Furner.”
Predicted finish? 3rd
The 2019 Betfred Super league Season kicks off in: