The Betfred Super League season kicks off in less than two weeks and anticipation around the season is building. Who will come out on top to be crowned champions? Who will be the surprise package this season? What will this Leeds side bring to the table this year?
In recent years Leeds Rhinos have been on a rollercoaster ride. Since their treble winning season in 2015, the Rhinos have only won two pieces of silverware in the past eight years: the Grand Final in 2017 and the Challenge Cup in 2020. The latter was played behind closed doors –due to the Covid-19 pandemic – which has added to the fans’ ever-longing hunger for Leeds to get something back into the trophy cabinet.
Rohan Smith took the Rhinos on an incredible run to the Grand Final in 2022, after joining the team mid-season. Unfortunately, Leeds couldn’t win the Grand Final, losing 24-12 to St Helens. However, after such a remarkable turnaround, made possible by Rohan, the coaching staff and the players, 2023 was a heavily optimistic one for the club and supporters.
The team has lost some key players from the side – such as now newly signed Wigan Warriors player, and the former Leeds captain, Kruise Leeming, requesting to leave the club to go to the National Rugby League (NRL). Blake Austin requested to leave on the final day of transfers, to go to West Yorkshire rivals Castleford Tigers, and a plague of injuries throughout the year proved to be too much for the Rhinos in the end. The side finished eighth and missed out on the playoffs.
A lot of fans have called the Rhinos’ recruitment poor and lacklustre in the past few years. They seem happier now knowing the club paid Salford an astonishing £300,000 for the double signing of 2022 Man of Steel Brodie Croft and England International Andy Ackers.
Ackers has already made his Leeds debut and put on an impressive first showing to the Headingley faithful on Boxing Day last year in a victory over newly relegated side Wakefield Trinity. Croft made his debut against Hull KR in a pre-season testimonial game for James Donaldson. The number 6 was electrifying in his debut scoring his first try for the club and also assisted twice during the game.
Leeds have lost both halfbacks from the past two years with both Austin and Sezar now back home in Australia. Wearing the iconic number 7 shirt in 2024 for Leeds Rhinos is Matt Frawley, who joins the side after playing for Canberra Raiders the past three years, only making 22 appearances in that time.
Frawley has had a stint in the Super League before with Huddersfield, scoring four tries in 22 games for them in 2019. The fans’ reaction to this signing is mixed, with some supporters being skeptical of Frawley. It is his job to prove them wrong. Frawley made his debut along with Ackers on Boxing Day and showed great signs of things to come, especially with his kicking game.
Richie Myler leaves the Rhinos after being an incredible player for the club. His departure has gifted Lachie Miller the fullback spot, joining Leeds from NRL side Newcastle Knights. Miller is hoping to make a name for himself in the Super League after sprinkling appearances in the NRL since making his debut in 2022 for Cronulla Sharks. Making his debut on Boxing Day, Miller showed his erratic and off-the-cuff play-style and collected a try assist.
Youngster Kieran Hudson joins the side from Castleford Tigers, with Rohan Smith looking to improve the already talented 23-year-old prop forward. Hudson is the grandson of Rhinos legend John Holmes who made a staggering 625 appearances for his hometown club. Hudson missed the 2023 season due to tearing his achilles and is aiming to make up for lost time.
Paul Momirovski replaces Nene Macdonald, who seemingly abandoned ship at Headingley despite signing a four-year extension for his stay at Leeds only months before his mysterious exit. Momirovski joins Leeds from Sydney Roosters and has previously won the NRL Grand Final in 2021 with Penrith. Last year a shoulder ligament injury left Momirovski out of the Roosters side for the majority of the season. He looks to be an ideal centre who will partner up with Ash Handley on his wing. Rohan Smith expects Momirovski to play the opening game of the season.
Former Catalan Dragon second row Mickael Goudamond was the first signing for the 2024 season and the French international is looking to Leeds for expanding his honors list. He joins after winning the Challenge Cup in 2018, the League Leaders Shield in 2021 and being a finalist in the Grand Final of that same year. His winning mentality will be vital in guiding the young Leeds side to silverware. Goudamond debuted for Leeds on Boxing Day and got stuck in straight away, helping carry the team up the field.
What should Leeds fans expect?
The Rhinos have been very good at being consistently inconsistent the past few years, leaving fans scratching their heads. One minute the South Stand are chanting “Rohan Smith’s barmy army” and the next they’re jeering their side.
Looking at who Leeds have signed and who they have managed to retain for the year, as well as the star players already in the side, supporters absolutely should be optimistic and expect strong performances in 2024.
After a captain-less year – a poor decision made by head coach Rohan Smith – loose forward Cameron Smith has been awarded the armband. He is a true leader on the pitch – a tackling machine and a great runner with the ball. His appointment is a great sign of Leeds heading in the right direction.
Leeds definitely has the squad to beat anyone on their day, but they need to gel together quickly with their brand-new spine. Expecting this team to be spot on in round 1 is unrealistic, yet picking up points is still a must. Until players are settled and understand each other’s game, clunky and gutsy performances are more than likely.
On the whole, everyone expects Leeds Rhinos to make the playoffs and push for silverware in 2024, looking to rectify their underwhelming 2023 season.
Round 1 of the 2024 Betfred Super League for the Rhinos kicks off at AMT Headingley Stadium on 16 February where they play Salford Red Devils.