2020 was always destined to be a big year for Leeds Rhinos, after a couple of seasons spent lower down the table.
To combat this, there was a bit of a clearout. Ashton Golding moved across West Yorkshire to Huddersfield Giants with Brett Ferres also moving to Featherstone Rovers. Matt Parcell made his move to Hull KR a permanent one, Brad Singleton went to Toronto Wolfpack, then Trent Merrin returned to Australia.
Meanwhile, Richard Agar had moved to sign Luke Gale from Castleford Tigers, with Matt Prior also coming in from the NRL as well as Kruise Leeming and Alex Mellor joining from Huddersfield Giants.
False Start and Rise
The first game came around, and fans may have been forgiven for thinking there was going to be another false dawn, as they were beaten 30-4 by Hull FC.
They had an unexpected break the next week, as their game with Huddersfield Giants had been called off amid Storm Ciara.
Leeds looked much the fresher side as they swept Hull KR aside in their second match. Two tries apiece from Harry Newman and Cameron Smith, and other efforts from Jack Walker, Ash Handley, Konrad Hurrell, James Donaldson and Richie Myler completed the resounding victory.
A week later, the Rhinos recorded their first away win of the season at Salford Red Devils. Tries from Gale, Luke Briscoe, Mikolaj Oledzki and Walker earned the Rhinos victory.
They ended the month by nilling Warrington Wolves at Headingley. Tries from Walker, Myler, Brad Dwyer, Hurrell, Ava Seumanufagai and Handley earned a win that had the Rhinos looking up the table.
In March, they thrashed Toronto Wolfpack 66-10, although this result was wiped when the Wolfpack withdrew from the competition.
Lockdown and Disruption
A week later, they refused to travel to the south of France as one of their players was showing signs of COVID-19. He had tested negative shortly after.
The sport, as well as the whole country, was stopped as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. A week after the suspension of rugby league, the whole country was locked down.
There would be no rugby league again until August, meaning the Rhinos would have to wait five months before returning to action.
They would face Huddersfield Giants in the rearranged clash from Round Two.
With 20 minutes to go, they looked down and out. Losing and down to 12 men with Handley in the sin bin. But they rallied thanks two tries from Hurrell and other efforts from Gale, Briscoe and Mellor against his old club got them level. Gale then won the match with a drop-goal in extra time.
A week later, they were brought back down to earth after a humbling 48-0 defeat against St Helens. They backed that up with another defeat against Wigan.
Leeds would end the month with a 50-12 victory over a Salford side playing their first game for three weeks.
Hat-tricks from Handley and Myler, as well as other efforts from Gale, Rob Lui and Oledzki completed the big win.
September started with a familiar feel for Leeds, as their trip to Catalans was cancelled for the second time, after a COVID outbreak at the Dragons.
They returned to action in St Helens, as they faced Huddersfield for the second time since the restart. Tries from Hurrell and Tom Briscoe, then a Gale drop-goal won the match 13-12.
Challenge Cup Dreams
The focus then went onto the Challenge Cup. The Rhinos faced Hull KR for a spot in the semi-finals, and they emphatically booked their place. Two tries from Leeming, and others from Ava Seumanufagai, Handley, Tom Briscoe, Newman, Luke Briscoe and Rhyse Martin earned the big win.
A week later, they faced Hull KR again, and proved that the Challenge Cup win was no fluke. Two tries from Handley, and others from Martin, Donaldson, Myler, Mellor and Tom Briscoe earned a 41-16 victory.
With the Challenge Cup in mind, Agar chose to give some of his younger players a match against Catalans at Headingley. They lost 34-6.
However, that gamble would work as Leeds were able to beat Wigan in their semi-final 26-12 in St Helens.
Two tries from Handley, and others from Martin and Tom Briscoe booked the Rhinos a place at Wembley for the first time since 2015.
Back in Super League action, they would face an unexpected opponent a week later. They were due to face Castleford Tigers, but due to a COVID outbreak at the Tigers, they would face Hull FC instead.
A hat-trick from Handley, two tries from Walker and other efforts from Donaldson and Liam Sutcliffe got Leeds a 40-22 win.
Once again, with the Challenge Cup in mind, the decision was taken to give the kids another chance against Warrington Wolves. hey fell to a 32-6 defeat.
And once again, that gamble paid off as Leeds won their first piece of silverware since 2017, and their first Challenge Cup since 2015, as they beat Salford Red Devils 17-16. Two tries from Handley and another for Tom Briscoe earned the Rhinos victory.
Back to reality
Once again, Agar rested a number of key players for their clash against St Helens, and they lost 40-8.
This was because they were playing again on the Monday against Castleford Tigers. Tries from Seumanufagai, Gale, Sutcliffe, Tom Briscoe and Martin got the Rhinos back to winning ways.
They then ended the month with a defeat against in-form Wakefield Trinity.
However, they got to play Wakefield again a few days later at the Mobile Rocket Stadium. They would not make the same mistake twice.
Two tries from Handley, and others from Sutcliffe and Dwyer earned the Rhinos what proved to be an important victory.
It was important, as this was the Rhinos’ final match of the regular season because of rising coronavirus cases across the league.
Leeds had finished in fifth place in the Super League, meaning they would face Catalans in the first round of the playoffs.
However, this would be where Leeds would end their season, as they lost 26-14 in Warrington.
Despite their early exit from the playoffs, they can still look on this season as a success, with the Challenge Cup victory.
Leeds will no doubt be looking to build on this in 2021 and go further into the season.