The 2016 season seemingly marked the end of the “Golden Generation” for the Rhinos, finishing 9th in the league and dropping into the Middle 8’s, from Treble winners to Middle 8’s almost the biggest fall from grace anyone could have imagined.
So what would 2017 bring? Surely there had to be some improvement, Rhinos fan as were left scratching their heads in the off season when no “big” signings were made with the loss of former man of steel Zak Hardaker, and on top of this the want away Segeyaro looked to leave a huge hole at hooker again – step up Matt Parcel. What a signing he has proved to be, quick out of dummy half and inspiring his forwards to get on the front foot, the link he’s made with Adam Cuthbertson is only going to get stronger with the Rhinos offload machine finding space again.
The “Golden Generation” was based on young talent being nurtured and allowed to flourish in due time, Sinfield, McGuire, JJB and co were all part of a developing Rhinos side, failures aplenty were felt but the rewards far out-weighed anything that came previously. The Rhinos became the most successful team in the Super League Era . So is there any new young talent for Rhinos fans to get excited about?
24 Karat Goulding – Aston Goulding was tasked with replacing what to many Rhinos fans seemed like the irreplaceable in Zak Hardaker, Goulding (20) had made first team appearances for the Rhinos with differing outcomes, many worried that he wouldn’t be strong enough mentally and more so physically to make the step up to the big time regularly. So far this season he has certainly proved all the doubters wrong, the first game of the season against a very big Saints side, showed how Ash has stepped up and worked on his defence in the off-season. He saved at least three certain tried on his own goal line, although ultimately the Rhinos lost the game narrowly many fans came out of the game with nothing but praise for the young fullback. The aspect that made Zak such a good player for the Rhinos was often not what he brought in attack, which was nothing short of silky, but what he did at the other end and it looks like Ash is going to be very similar. For me it’s not just what Ash has brought on the field this season that tells me he is going to be a star and a Leeds legend but after the game at Wigan, a war of attrition in which the Rhinos played some of their best rugby for a long time, the roar Goulding gave to the crowd at the end and him singing along with the South Stand, elated at a massive result against last year’s champions. The passion and the will to improve is something that can’t be taught, it’s what endears players to the fans, it’s that blue and amber attitude that makes Goulding special. This again was shown in a brutal game against Wire when the Rhinos were far from their best but could be considered unlucky to end up on the losing side after some questionable, to say the least, refereeing decisions, from every Rhinos favourite man in the middle James Childs. Goulding suffered what looked to be a game ending shoulder injury in the second half but with his team needing him he refused to go off the field and played the remainder of the game with one arm. Some may say that’s foolish, I say that is passion and brotherhood, not leaving your mates in the heat of battle. Passion doesn’t win games alone but it certainly helps and it certainly inspires those around you and it oozes out of Ashton’s pores. My first personal experience of Ashton Goulding was after the Castlford game in 2015 the last home game of the regular season in that infamous Treble winning season. All the players were taking pictures and signing autographs with the fans, Ash got around every child and adult and smiled for every photo, I asked him, ‘Ash can we actually pull this off?’ He replied, ‘Of course we can, the lads will turn it around, believe me.’ That unwavering belief is what impresses me most about our young fullback, he is most definitely one to watch. His application to improving his kicking from the tee is also an extremely admirable quality.
Ash Goulding isn’t the only young gun coming to the fore at the Rhinos, wunderbar Jimmy Keinhorst, the German rugby union convert was by far the Rhinos best player last season. A shining light in a dim room is an apt description. Keinhorst was some what of a forgotten man at the Rhinos, never seeming to get a chance that so many thought he deserved. With Jimmy plying his trade at centre it was hard to see how he would break into the team with Watkins and Moon on either side. Instead it was the injury to Stevie Ward that allowed Keinhorst to flourish, coming into the second row in a faltering season in which the pack were massively underperforming. Keinhorst led the way and refused to take a backward step, not only his power but his creativity and deception made him hard to stop, so much so that he was the Rhinos top try scorer. During this season Keinhorst has gone back into centre with Moon moving into the halves and that has worked for the Rhinos, Moon has been able to dictate from the middle and Jimmy has built up a superb relationship on the left with Ryan Hall. A sour note for Rhinos fans is that Jimmy has picked up an injury that will require surgery putting him out for up to three months. That could be catastrophic for Leeds.
So that’s two young guns for all Rhinos and super league fans to look out for. For me the Rhinos have even more young talent on show this season: Jordan Lilley, Jordan Baldwinson, Mikolaj Oledzki, Jack Ormondroyd and Anthony Mullally. Although Mullally has been on th scene for a long time he has yet to really find his feet and show the talent that he clearly has, however he has made a fantastic start to this season with the Rhinos, he has literally barged his way into the team and through opposition defences. Another player who can reap the benefits of Matt Parcell and vice versa, the big Irish prop has made a huge impact every time he has come off the bench this season and I can only see him getting better and better with more game time. Jordan Lilley will be a name familiar to Rhinos fans from last season, Jordan was given a baptism of fire when McGuire got injured and Lilley was tasked with leading a faultering Rhinos side from half back, however, he did this with the experience of a man who was in his 10th season not his first and this season whilst on loan at the Bradford Bulls he has looked a class above. Jordan is another player who is only going to get better the more game time he has. Working closely with the likes of Danny McGuire at the Rhinos and Leon Pryce at the Bulls is surely only going to help his progression. The Polish powerhouse Mikolaj Oledzki is another player who has impressed whilst out on loan this season, he has made outstanding contributions at both Bradford and Featherstone and it surely only a matter of time before he breaks into the Rhinos regular match day squad. Finally, Jordan Baldwinson, who for whatever reason has had a somewhat stop start relationship with the Rhinos, going to the New Zealand Warriors and then coming back before having a superb stint on loan at Feathersone last year in which he won Young Championship Player of the Season. He’s back at the Rhinos this year and is looking to burst into the first team, after the disaster of last season it is surely a chance for the young bucks to cut their teeth, in the games Baldwinson has featured in for the Rhinos this season, in my opinion and many other Rhinos regulars he has done brilliantly and is someone we want to see more of. McDermott seems to have other ideas, but you can’t keep a good man down and Jordan is quality and sooner or later Brian Mac is going to be forced to pay attention.
So could this be a new Golden Generation , starting with some 24 Karat Goulding? Only time will tell but we certainly have some reasons to be hopeful.