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What else can be said about such a remarkable season other than, 'thereís rarely a dull moment as a Rhinos fan!'
The season started as it ended, in dramatic fashion, with a real thriller at Cardiff against Bradford. However, losses to Harlequins and Hull KR in the early part of the season had alarm bells ringing and drew a lot of complaints from this young Cumbrian! We had a boat load of injuries, yet we were releasing players and allowing back-ups to stay out on loan, it seemed as if the club had lost the plot.
Not even the influx of overpriced lager and the baking Perpignan heat allowed me to forget the coach trip back to my hotel after the Catalan game in July. Weíd all spent upwards to £700 (including beer money) to go over and watch what was the worst Rhinos performance I can remember since I started going week in week out over ten years ago. There were six of us in my party that day, each wondering why we bothered going to those lengths to back a team who seemingly couldnít be bothered, little did we know then what would happen almost three months to the day later at Old Trafford!
From the day we seemed to click! Sinfield at his magnificent best, Brent Webb offering electric attacking play once again, Peacock rolling back the years to lead from the front, young lads like Jones-Bishop and Hardaker scoring breath taking tries...it was as if it was a totally different team.
We were utterly tremendous (apart from a 20 minute spell) in the Challenge Cup Final, a game weíd have won had the referee seen fit to penalise Lee Mossopís attempts to become Super Leagueís top quarterback for Wiganís winning try, and Iíd seen enough that day to make me think we may just have a shot come the end of season playoffs. So much so infact, that I backed us to win the Grand Final that day at 18/1, I was certainly very smug on Saturday night.
Come the play-offs we were back to as a good a Rhinos side as Iíd seen since 2004. Superb in defence and unstoppable in attack. Warrington away is possibly one of the best games of Rugby League Iíve ever seen live, and the celebrations when Sir Kev landed the winning kick will stay with me forever.
Then we have Saturday nightís exploits. Iíve never had a better feeling as a Rhinos fan (yes this includes 2004) than walking out of that ground able to laugh at the people whoíd ridiculed us as fans all year!
Itís hard to pick a stand-out performer from such an amazing end of season, but for me Carl Ablett deserves the plaudits. He doesnít get the credit he deserves for his hard work and endeavour, not to mention his exemplary attitude no matter where heís asked to play. Then of course we have Sir Kev, destined to go down in history as the clubís greatest ever Captain, and just an all-round god-like creature!
This leads me on to Brian McDermott. He copped a lot of stick earlier in the season (a lot from myself admittedly) however to get this team to two finals and win a championship from fifth is an amazing feat. He deserves a massive amount of credit. To get a team from the difficult place they were in Perpignan, and turn them into Champions is unbelievable. The jury is still out, the Richard Moore signing is still utterly baffling, but letís all enjoy the Championship for now eh?!
As a famous football manager once said "Iím not always right - but Iím never wrong" in this instance, Iím willing to eat a massive dose of humble pie and admit I was wrong on that famous coach trip in France, and Iím glad I stuck with it and lived every minute of the 2011 season with this amazing set of players!
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