Leeds fans honour Rob Burrow then demand Smith’s exit in defeat at Hull FC

<span>Hull FC's Lewis Martin celebrates scoring their first try in their 18-10 win over Leeds Rhinos at MKM Stadium.</span><span>Photograph: Lee Parker/CameraSport/Getty Images</span>
Hull FC's Lewis Martin celebrates scoring their first try in their 18-10 win over Leeds Rhinos at MKM Stadium.Photograph: Lee Parker/CameraSport/Getty Images

There could not have been a worse day for Leeds to produce a performance as categorically abject as this.

The last fortnight has reminded us all that sport, at the end of the day, is paled into insignificance when tragedy strikes. But any Leeds supporters who had made the trip along the M62 hoping to see their side put on a showing in their first game since the death of Rob Burrow left not only disappointed, but uncertain about the future of their head coach. This humiliating defeat, Leeds’ worst of 2024 by some stretch, could have major ramifications for Rohan Smith.

The mood of any club can be best gauged by its supporters. This day was, most importantly, about the opportunity for those connected with Leeds to pay their respects to Burrow. There were relentless chants before and during the game about a player who won everything there was to win during his career at Leeds, and who made such a difference to the world post-career with his ­fundraising efforts, too.

But by the midway point of the second half, those same supporters were chanting in Smith’s direction as the Rhinos toiled. This defeat, against a Hull FC team with just one win to their name all season and without a victory in 11 games, was the lowest ebb of Smith’s tenure.

Smith kept his squad in the dressing room post-match, with the club’s chief executive, Gary Hetherington, also heading in. “I think it’s important, particularly after disappointing performances, you get together and talk about how to work through it and the importance of the week ahead,” Smith said when asked to sum up what happened.

Results can fade into insignificance given how deeply affected everyone at Leeds has been by the loss of Burrow, five years after he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease. Nobody will truly know how a group of players, many of whom knew Burrow on a personal level and even played with him, will have reacted to the news of his death, and that in itself is an important point to reflect upon.

“It’s been tough for them, they treasured their time with him and I’m sure they wish they could have got a win for him today,” Smith said. In truth, his side were second-best throughout, and the two tries Leeds scored in the final quarter via Ash Handley and Harry Newman added a shade of respectability to the ­scoreline it did not really merit, given Hull’s dominance.

Leeds will pay a full, extensive tribute to Burrow on Friday against Leigh, in their first home game since his death. But there were plenty of poignant moments here too, including Leeds’ captain, Cameron Smith, and Hull’s Liam Sutcliffe, whom Burrow coached in the Leeds academy, laying wreaths pre-match before a ­minute’s applause and united chanting from both sets of fans.

Conditions made enterprising rugby tough but, just as a low-­quality first half appeared to be ending ­scoreless, Hull struck with two tries in three minutes. Lewis Martin and Denive Balmforth injected confidence into a home side who have been shorn of anything to cheer in recent weeks.

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They then went further ahead after the break when Cam Scott touched down and their lead was fully ­merited, given the spirit they had shown defensively – in stark contrast to their opposition. Hull remain 11th, Leeds seventh.

Two of the many undeniable qualities that defined Burrow both during and after his playing career were his spirit and his determination to fight against the odds. That quality is painfully lacking in this Leeds squad and while Smith will remain steadfast he is the right man for the job, the ­pressure is now extreme.