'McDermott axing an epic mistake'


Brian Carney

Rugby League Expert & Columnist

McDermott won four Grand Finals, two Challenge Cups and a World Club Challenge in eight seasons in charge

Last Updated: 03/07/18 4:18pm

Brian McDermott was sacked by Leeds on Monday, something Sky Sports' Brian Carney cannot understand
Brian McDermott was sacked by Leeds on Monday, something Sky Sports' Brian Carney cannot understand

Brian McDermott was sacked by Leeds on Monday, something Sky Sports’ Brian Carney cannot understand

Sky Sports Analyst Brian Carney gives his take on this week’s surprise news that Brian McDermott has lost his job at the Leeds Rhinos…

I am staggered by the decision to release Bran McDermott from employment at Leeds.

It’s a decision I find utterly perplexing. Let me explain why.

Yes, they are on a run of seven consecutive defeats, and their most recent performance – defeat last Friday on Sky Sports at Wigan – was abject.

READ: Who will replace McDermott at Leeds?

They were devoid of anything we would normally associate with Leeds. But that’s it. That’s all you can throw at McDermott in my opinion.

I hear you say: ‘But seven defeats, that’s a club record for Super League in a season’, yes, but delve deeper, scratch into those defeats, cast your minds back to their performance against the standout side St Helens just a couple of weeks ago, when Saints needed everything to get over the line by just one point.

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McDermott's reaction as the Rhinos slumped to a seventh successive defeat after their loss to Wigan last week

McDermott’s reaction as the Rhinos slumped to a seventh successive defeat after their loss to Wigan last week

Look at the narrow defeats they have had. One-point defeats, two-point defeats. Those games did not go their way, I accept that, Brian McDermott accepts that, and it’s seven consecutive losses but why pull the trigger now?

This is a man and a club which has been there before and come out the other end. And not just come out the other end surviving, come out the other end thriving.

READ: McDermott’s Leeds best bits

Cast your minds back to 2016 when Leeds were the reigning champions. They had that annus horribilis and a flooded training ground was often offered as one of the reasons for their poor performances – a reason I never bought.

In that year they had a run of just one win in 11 matches and at that particular period, had a stretch of six consecutive losses. Some of their results? A 52-12 home loss to Castleford, a 40-8 home defeat to Wigan, and a week later: a 52-18 defeat to Warrington.

No trigger was pulled then. No trigger was pulled despite the fact when they finally solved the hooker problem, and James Segeyaro was brought in, Leeds still found themselves in the Qualifiers.

McDermott has cut a dejected figure, but led Leeds out of similar troubles before McDermott has cut a dejected figure, but led Leeds out of similar troubles before

McDermott has cut a dejected figure, but led Leeds out of similar troubles before

No decision was made at the end of that season to depart with Brian McDermott. No one said: ‘Well it’s been good, but it’s time to move on.’

Leeds carried on, almost as if nothing had happened and entered 2017 with, again, a dreadful start to the season including a 66-10 loss at Castleford – there was still no trigger pulled then.

And, if you followed Super League, you will know they ended 2017 as champions.

Highlights from Old Trafford in 2017 as Leeds claimed their eighth Grand Final title with a convincing 24-6 win over Castleford

Highlights from Old Trafford in 2017 as Leeds claimed their eighth Grand Final title with a convincing 24-6 win over Castleford

So why now? Why, with four games to go and an important Challenge Cup final, would you dismiss the man who has brought you four Super League trophies, a World Club Challenge trophy and a Challenge Cup?

Don’t throw fifth-placed finishes, second-placed finishes and ninth-placed finishes at me, they don’t matter as long as you’re in the playoffs most years. And in my opinion, he’s been in the playoffs and Grand Finals, and won Grand Finals enough times to get longer to solve the current issues.

It makes no sense to me.

Do they really think he was not capable of turning it around when the troops come back? And don’t take it from me that they have had an injury crisis, I spoke to a well-respected assistant coach in Super League on Monday, out of whose mouth the first words were: ‘He’s [McDermott] had a shocking run with injuries.’

And even if, in what they consider not a worst case scenario but a disastrous season, they ended up finishing in the Qualifiers, Brian McDermott could turn around and say: ‘This isn’t great, here are the reasons I believe we’re here, but remember last time? We went from Qualifiers to champions.’

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McDermott led Leeds to a League Leaders' Shield, two Challenge Cups, a World Club Challenge victory and four Super League Grand Final wins during his time with the club

McDermott led Leeds to a League Leaders’ Shield, two Challenge Cups, a World Club Challenge victory and four Super League Grand Final wins during his time with the club

The squad does need an overall. Even with all their players back to fitness, I would still advocate change, but I am struggling to find any sense behind the timing of this decision.

And I also don’t think for a minute that the recruitment of players to the Leeds Rhinos is done by the head coach in isolation. So the spotlight cannot shine solely on Brian McDermott.

If he had gone at the year’s end, with Leeds surviving a stint in the Qualifiers, I would still make a strong case that McDermott, if he wants it, earns a crack at season 2019 with Leeds.

Because the last time he was in such a situation, he brought them to Old Trafford and onto the podium.

The 48-year-old's track record for silverware success, irrespective of league finish, is superb The 48-year-old's track record for silverware success, irrespective of league finish, is superb

The 48-year-old’s track record for silverware success, irrespective of league finish, is superb

I’ll ask Castleford fans this, because their side were so brilliant last year. Would they want an eight-year period of League Leaders’ Shield victories and that alone? Or would they swap it for an eight-year period with four Grand Final wins, a Challenge Cup win and a World Club Challenge?

And I address that to Castleford fans but it’s a point made to broader fans and to club owners. What do you want? On what do you ultimately judge your coach? If it’s trophies, Brian McDermott should still be the coach of Leeds.

Gary Hetherington has not got much wrong in his time at Leeds, and this may not be something he or the club regrets. But I believe it is a mistake of epic proportions.

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Leeds Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington admits it was a difficult decision to sack McDermott

Leeds Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington admits it was a difficult decision to sack McDermott

There was a section of the Leeds following that Brian never gelled with, or, more correctly, they never gelled with Brian.

I would say to them, and this is coming from a man who had five different coaches in five years at Wigan, be careful what you wish for.

A change of coach is far from a guarantee of success. And you already had success.

Brian didn’t try and like everybody. He didn’t try and endear himself to elements of the media. But I don’t know that it was his job to.

I would say if you asked this former military man: ‘What’s one of the most important things you’ve got to do in your job as a Leeds Rhinos head coach?’ He would say: ‘To deliver trophies’. And he did that.

As a final line, and this seems to get lost sometimes, he was, up until Monday morning, coach of the reigning champions. Coach of the side that he cajoled, coaxed and caressed all the way up to those final few steps on the pitch last October.

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