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Mark Twain once wrote "In the spring I have counted 136 different kinds of weather inside of 24 hours".
As a Rhinos fan you could relate this to experiencing 136 kinds of emotion in a season of watching Leeds. As
the sun sets on what for all of us has been a real rollercoaster ride, I will attempt to convey my own highs
and lows during a madcap year which culminated in a match after which I felt emotionally drained and, for a
while, unable to take in what I had witnessed.
So, back to the beginning and the Bulls at Cardiff watched from the comfort of my armchair. Sorry RFL (SLE or
whatever you call yourselves these days) but the time and expense involved in getting to South Wales in
February for the privilege of shivering all day in a freezing cold stdium just didn't push the right buttons
for me. A rusty performance but the right result, folowed by a win at Hull and everything was dandy.
The injuries were piling up but the first home game was "only" Harlequins and I was as optimistic as I ever
am. What a shambles! This had the worst aspects of 2010 in every area of the field. The doubts started to creep
in, although things would get better once we could get our best team on the park. Wouldn't they?
By the time the home game against Saints came round some of the early confidence had gone although I felt that
Saints weren't pulling up any trees and this match may give an indication of where we were. To some extent it did.
Some decent play but a lack of concentration, a beaten pack and poor discipline led to a defeat in a game that was
there for the taking. Overall very disappointing. It wasn't the last time that I would leave HQ feeling that way.
In the home game against the pies we produced our best rugby to date. We showed what we were capable of only to let
the win slip away by failing to play for the full eighty minutes. I left the ground deflated. It really did feel
like another loss.
Around this time the wheels came off and I really started to despair. An abject display at Hull KR,followed by an
unacceptable home drubbing at the hands of the Giants set the alarm bells ringing. Were we ever going to put
together a decent eighty minutes? I began to doubt McDermott's ability to turn things round. His team selections
and use of replacements were becoming increasingly bizarre. We had some "big names" to come back from injury but
the seeming lack of game plan, commitment and composure together with headless chicken rugby meant that I couldn't
see any progress, purpose or direction in our season.
Following a ground out result at Odsal and a regulation victory over a hopeless Crusaders team came a most
unexpected thrashing of an "in form" Castleford side. Had the tide really turned and the team finally clicked?
Well no, not really. This was the first of a couple of false dawns.
A dull May contained a couple of poor games but told us nothing new until the last game of the month and nearly all
of June saw us plunge new depths. We were handed a lesson by the best team to visit Headingley this season by
some distance. I had all but given up any hope of Leeds success in SL and confidently predicted that Warrington
would win the Grand Final. I still wasn't sure where this left us but it wasn't looking good.
After a pasting at St Helens our confidence looked shattered. We had failed to beat any of the top four and, bar
the Wigan game, rarely even competed. June was to end with a home defeat against Bradford and this represented my
personal nadir. The general ineptitude against the worst Bulls team I had seen for years left me shell shocked.
For the first time since I became a season ticket holder, I was seriously contemplating not renewing next year. I
was finding it difficult to motivate myself to get in the car and drive to Leeds on a Friday night after work when
I could be comfortably ensconced in the pub, and as I said to the guy in the seat next to me, I just wasn't enjoying
this any more. It wasn't that we kept losing, it was the way we were losing. We were expected to watch complete
dross and I couldn't see anything changing unless the management team was replaced.
Evidently we played better at Wigan ( I wouldn't know having not even watched the game) but then I couldn't believe
how bad we were in France. There were rumours of unrest in the dressing room and it appeared that the players
weren't playing for the coach. I joined the clamour demanding his head.
As if by magic another false dawn appeared. A quickfire double against Hull including a shut out, victory against
Salford, a hard fought semi final win over Cas followed by another shut out and a real shellacking of our country
cousins raised hopes again. There was a chance of a top four finish and we were back at Wembley. Perhaps something
could be salvaged from this most disappointing of seasons.
The hopes didn't stay raised very long. Within a week we were staring down the abyss again. The second really low
point of the season for me was a totally gutless and unacceptable performance at The Stoop against a team in disarray
who hadn't won in nearly three months. This was the final straw for me regarding the coach. I was prepared to write
off the SL season and accept another tonking at Wembley but please, God, get in a competent coach for 2012! I
believe that I posted something along those lines at the time.
So on to Wembley and I admit that I turned up expecting a repeat of the Warrington game twelve months earlier.In
some respects it wasn't too bad. At least we competed and could even have won had we had the bounce of the ball and the
benefit of a couple of refereeing decisions. But the old failings were there. It was like the whole season in miniature.
Failure to play for eighty minutes. You can't give a team like Wigan a sixteen point start in a major final and we were
still on the team bus for the first twenty. Unenforced errors - Webb's spilled catch led to the Pie's first try. Poor
discipline - Leuluai's ridiculous penalty conceded when we were camped under Wigan's posts. Some people chose to blame
the officials for this defeat but I believe that had we played the whole eighty at the right intensity we would have won.
I was therefore surprised by the number of "humble pie" posts appearing on the board around this time. To me we had
little chance in the play offs and still hadn't beaten any of the top four teams. Furthermore the criticism of the
coach and the team had been fully justified at the time. This had been a dreadful season. The way that people seemed
happy with just getting to Wembley and losing spoke volumes given that the road to the final had hardly been the most
difficult that we had ever had.
I honestly thought that the final home game against Wakefield would be the last time I would see Leeds in 2011. I
hadn't caught the post-Wembley upbeat mood and found it hard to care about this game one way or the other. We had
failed to finish in the top four (that this subsequently made no difference is irrelevant) and at no point in the season
had I felt that I was watching anything approaching a "champion" team.
And so the play offs loomed ever closer. I still didn't believe. No-one had ever won from fifth and Warrington were
a shoo-in for the title. I just wanted the season to end without any further humiliation. To say that I was totally
unprepared for what happened next is an understatement.A bloodless win over a dispirited Hull at a rather subdued
Headingley revealed little of what was to come. It was on the road from now on and the end was nigh!
I still can't believe the transformation in the attitude, resiliance and determination of this team. Suddenly everything
had come together. The win at the Galpharm was good but the heroic victory at the HJ was remarkable in the extreme. Who
would have thought that this team would have lost to Harlequins a month earlier? This was a fired-up side with something
to prove but who was responsible for this motivation? Brian McDermott? The players themselves? Or a combination of both?
Was hitting form and having the momentum at this stage of the season part of a master plan? Or did it just happen? And
if so, why? Surely not just by chance.
Somehow we had made it to the Grand Final and were playing our best rugby of the season. As the day approached I found
that I was more relaxed about it than at any time in the past. To be honest I had all kinds of mixed feelings. Could we
win? Without a doubt. Would we win? Fifty- fifty really. Would I be gutted if we lost? Not as much as if we had lost in
2004 or 2008 when we had been the dominant side all season. The feeling still persisted that I didn't see us as champions.
Partly bacause of the above, for the first time in seventeen years I hadn't bought a ticket for a major final.I
settled down to watch on Sky with a parmo and a bottle of wine. After all I had told myself I wasn't that bothered.
Like hell I wasn't! The neighbours must have been close to calling for the men in white coats. I can remember screaming
the place down and going completely mental after Burrow's try. The ecstacy at the final whistle matched that of all the
previous GF wins (except maybe 2004), leaving me feeling slightly punch-drunk. Whatever, I have been on a high ever since.
Do I now regard the 2011 vintage as a champion team? Most definitely!
Now the dust has settled am I sitting down to a large slice of humble pie? Not really, although I do recognise the fantastic
achievement in getting to both major finals and winning the ultimate prize from a seemingly hopeless position.It seems strange
that I ever doubted the ability of this magnificent side. We are champions and that is all that matters, so congratulations
to Brian McDermott and all the heroes who took the field at the Galpharm, HJ and Old Trafford. The outstanding end to the
season does beg the question as to why we were so awful for so much of the year but I am the first to admit that I haven't
got the answer.
Think you can do better? - Send your season review to email@example.com .