Leeds chief executive Gary Hetherington believes Brian McDermott is poised to underline his status as one of the most successful coaches in the history of the game.
McDermott will lead the Rhinos out at Old Trafford on Saturday for the fourth time in his seven years at the helm, aiming to guide them to a fourth title at the expense of favourites Castleford, just 12 months after fighting off a battle to avoid relegation from Super League.
The former Bradford and Great Britain prop forward, who became the longest-serving coach in Super League following the departure of Tony Smith from Warrington, hailed his club for keeping their nerve during the team’s torrid time in 2016 but Hetherington says he never once considered sacking his coach.
“All decisions are made in the best interests of the club,” Hetherington told Press Association Sport. “There is no question that Brian McDermott’s tenure at the club has been one of the key factors in our success.
“He’s proved himself to be the most successful coach in the club’s history and one of the most successful coaches in the game’s history so that’s quite an accolade and something we’re grateful for.
“Of course, there comes a time in any player, coach, administrator’s career where they’ve run their course and that will come to me, it will come to Brian and it will come to everybody else at some stage.
“But I never believed that we’d reached that point and that’s why it was important that we went into this season with the confidence and knowledge that it was all to play for. We went in with the same group of men that disappointed themselves in 2016 but knew they were capable of retrieving the situation.”
Hetherington is keen to point out that, although the Rhinos finished 10 points adrift of Castleford, their 20 victories matched their total in 2015 when they claimed the League Leaders’ Shield on their way to completing the treble.
That looked an unlikely prospect after Leeds’ humiliating 66-10 defeat by the Tigers in March and Hetherington appeared to suggest, in a letter to members, that McDermott’s job was on the line unless there was a marked improvement in the next four fixtures.
Hetherington says the letter was designed to assure the fans of his concern but insists he never had any doubt that the Castleford defeat was a short-term blip.
“The manner and the extent of the defeat was hugely disappointing and quite alarming,” he said. “However, I was asking the question. Was it a one-off or actually symptomatic of what could well become a great problem?
“I didn’t know the answer but I knew that over the next four weeks we would get would get some indication of what the answer might be. Of course we won the next four games and that told me that it was a one-off that can happen in sport.
“Wakefield got 60 against Wigan last year and Wigan went on to win the competition.”
Leeds’ fall from grace in 2016 was due in part to their failure to cope with the departure of long-serving trio Kevin Sinfield, Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai but Hetherington believes they are better equipped this time to deal with the loss of two more modern-day greats in Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow, who will play their last matches for the club on Saturday.
“Losing Peacock, Sinfield and Leuluai was always going to be difficult and it needed other players to step up,” Hetherington added.
“Clearly that didn’t happen in 2016 – most of them were injured during that time so it wasn’t a fair test – but those same players showed themselves to be capable of taking on that leadership mantle in 2017.
“We have seen the evolution of the Rhinos team with the new breed of core leaders within the side, people like Kallum Watkins, who has stepped up tremendously well, Stevie Ward, Liam Sutcliffe is starting to come to the fore, Brad Singleton, these are the next generation.
“They have all got their best years to come, as indeed have players like Matt Parcell and Mitch Garbutt, two of our overseas players who have made a major contribution as well and are still in their mid-twenties.”