Leeds will still be at the top of their game in 2018

Wind the clock back to a year ago and Leeds Rhinos were just recovering from their worst Super League season in the summer game; fans didn't know what to expect for the 2017 season and there was considerable anxiety that 2016 could well be replicated in 2017. And, after a dismal start to the season - which included a 66-10 hammering by eventual Grand Final opponents Castleford Tigers - the prospect of Leeds finishing outside the top eight seemed possible once more.
Tell that to Brian McDermott and his Rhinos' players; six wins from seven in April and March brought Leeds back within touching distance of the top four. And, 20 wins from 30 by the end of the season saw the Rhinos finish second in what was a vastly improved - if slightly inconsistent - season.
A home playoff tie against third-placed Hull FC beckoned; a narrow 18-16 victory sent the Rhinos into yet another Super League Grand Final. And on Grand Final day, Leeds were too strong for an error-ridden Castleford Tigers' side, and they secured a record eighth Grand Final victory in what was both Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow's last game in a Leeds' shirt. Yes, Leeds will miss both of these legends in 2018, but, they still have what it takes to be challenging for silverware once more in 2018.

Players with points to prove

While Leeds enjoyed another successful season, two of their new signings - Richie Myler and Brad Dwyer - endured miserable seasons for Catalans Dragons and Warrington Wolves respectively. Both are magnificent players on their day and both are still relatively young - Myler is 27 and Dwyer is 24.
Likewise, former Gold Coast Titan, Nathaniel Peteru, arrives at the Rhinos after playing just 23 NRL games over the course of two-and-a-half years, yet he is a mobile, exciting forward whose game suits the Super League game perfectly. A move to Leeds Rhinos could be a fresh start for the trio and may well be the tonic that the three players need to reignite - or in Peteru's case to kickstart - their careers.
While Leeds' incoming signings have a point to prove so do some of their existing squad members; the likes of Tom Briscoe, Brett Ferres and Brett Delaney were all below par in 2017 with injuries and inconsistency plaguing their seasons. A fresh year signals a time to put their 2017 struggles in the past and move on in an attempt to get back to their best.

Still the same coaching setup

Though some Leeds fans have a vendetta against head coach Brian McDermott, the former Harlequins RL boss has been at the helm of the West Yorkshire club since the end of 2010. In his time as Leeds boss, the former prop forward has won four Super League titles, two Challenge Cups and one World Club Challenge; to put his success into perspective, that's seven major honours in seven seasons.
McDermott, then, is arguably one of the most successful coaches in Super League history, and despite the fact that some of the Rhinos' following dislike him, he obviously has the respect and trust of Leeds CEO Gary Hetherington. In other words, the whole structure of Leeds Rhinos from top to bottom is working off the same hymn sheet; everyone trusts each other in their respective roles and this is what has driven the standards of the club, and, in turn, enabled it to become the most successful side in the Super League era.

Loss of Burrow and McGuire

This whole structure is still in place for 2018. Despite losing club legends Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow at the end of 2017, Leeds is a club that can move on; yes, losing Kevin Sinfield, Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai at the end of their treble-winning season in 2015 hurt the club massively going into 2016, but the Rhinos bounced back like only they know how to in 2017. While Rob Burrow has had a glistening career at Leeds, he played more of a bit-part role in 2017 especially after being sidelined by injury for a chunk of the year.
His impact will not be missed too much as he will still be at the club in a backroom role, passing his experiences onto the next generation of budding Rhino stars. And, though McGuire arguably played the game of his life in October's Grand Final, the past few seasons have appeared to be somewhat of a struggle for the now 35-year-old; Leeds have certainly seen the best of him and it was perhaps the correct time to move on.

Young stars

Although Leeds do not have like-for-like replacements for Burrow and McGuire in their academy, there are still a number of youngsters who, if given a chance in the near future, could well become part of another 'Golden Generation'. Polish-born prop forward Mikolaj Oledzki is a 19-year-old monster, while winger Harry Newman, backrower Josh Jordan-Roberts and centre Alex Sutcliffe have all been tipped to have great futures in the game.
Half-back Jordan Lilley is still only 21 despite playing over 40 games for the Rhinos and is a massively underrated stand-off, while 18-year-old full-back Jack Walker demonstrated just how talented he is with several superb performances in 2017 - even managing a Grand Final appearance where he kept fellow youngster Ashton Golding out of the side. Both Lilley and Walker signed long-term deals in 2017 and both have what it takes to reach the very top level.
Liam Sutcliffe (23), Stevie Ward (24) and Brad Singleton (25) still have a decade or more in them and all three are very much top players on their day; the future potential for Leeds is frightening and 2018 could be the first sign of things to come.

Callum Walker

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