Saturday’s 61-0 thrashing at Catalans Dragons was Leeds biggest margin of defeat in a Betfred Super League game and came a week after Wigan Warriors won 50-0 to inflict Rhinos’ worst home result in the competition.
The rout in Perpignan ended Rhinos’ faint hopes of a top-six finish with one round remaining in the season, at home to Castleford Tigers on Friday.
In his post-match press conference, coach Rohan Smith outlined some reasons for his team’s dramatic slump and said he and the team are committed to fighting their way through.
First-choice players Blake Austin, Kruise Leeming and Zane Tetevano all left the club during the season and Nene Macdonald appears to have played his final game for Leeds.
Rhinos were also without Sam Walters through suspension and Richie Myler, Aidan Sezer, James Bentley, Justin Sangare and Luis Roberts were ruled out through suspension.
“That’s 10 of your top 22/23 players not available,” Smith stated. “There was never a plan to have that so we are learning some hard lessons and the experiences are tough.
“They are tough for all of us - tough for the fans and for everyone connected to the club. It is a rough time, but we have got to fight out of it and finish the season strongly next weekend.”
Smith conceded Saturday was “definitely a low point” in his rugby league career, but stressed: “Anyone who has coached for 20 years has some low points.
“It is a tough industry you sign up for, as a coach or a player. Professional sport is for tough people and we will continue to fight.”
Assessing what went wrong against Catalans, Smith said: “We are extremely disappointed with the outcome and the performance.
“We expect a lot better of ourselves. I think at times we lacked some physicality early on to go and meet them, but at other times we were trying too hard individually to solve things, which actually made things a lot harder.
“All of our good defence throughout most of the season and the run we went on last year was based around being very connected and team-oriented with our defensive work.
“We have lost that a little bit of late. [We’ve had] a lot of young players, some players who are playing a bit injured and whatnot and trying too hard, a bit down on confidence and then trying to solve things themselves at times, which often makes things harder.”
Read more: 3s and 4s, nobody above 5 in Peter Smith's Leeds Rhinos player ratings from 61-0 Catalans Dragons rout
Early Rhinos errors allowed Catalans to score three tries in the opening 14 minutes and Smith felt the magnitude of the defeat was “self inflicted”.
He said: “It was disappointing we didn’t give ourselves a better chance to get into the game and make it an arm wrestle and a contest.
“They are a very good team, chasing big things and we are down on troops and a bit down on confidence, travelling away from home. There’s a lot of things there, but we certainly need to be better with our execution to give ourselves a chance.”
Smith added: “Away games you have to start well to give yourself a shot, or at least get in the grind and we didn’t do that.
“We are very disappointed and we’ll be reviewing our processes around getting ready to play and to start the game well. It’s really important we do that next week.”
Though Leeds were 9/1 to win the game with the bookies, Smith insisted he hadn’t seen Saturday’s disaster coming. He stressed: “We expected a competitive team performance and we got, at times, a disjointed performance, people trying too hard or not getting on the front foot with some physicality. We expected more, for sure.”
Smith also appealed for supporters to stay behind their side in Friday’s season-finale, stressing: “The fans have been tremendous all year and they are entitled to be disappointed and frustrated at times.
“They deserve better than what we delivered today, clearly. We appreciate the pain they are going through and respect them and we are grateful for the support from the large group who were there. We need it again next week.”
Rhinos finished with 11 players on the field, after Harry Newman and Sam Lisone were sin-binned in the final five minutes and lost 20-year-old substitute forward Leon Ruan.
Smith confirmed: “He dislocated an elbow. The doctor did a tremendous job and got it back in. He is not in too much pain, but obviously that will be another injury for the list.”