Leeds appear to be very much a club in transition this year. Whilst most teams to have been relegated from the Premiership in recent years seem to have bounced back at the first time of asking Leeds have struggled to reach the dominance achieved by Northampton, Harlequins and Worcester following their relegation to the Championship.
Whilst promotion this season is by no means off the table completely, with Leeds sitting just 13 points off leaders Bristol and eight away from a place in the top conference when the league splits, they instead appear to be taking a more reserved approach, having lost many of their senior players following their relegation they are taking a long term approach and are developing a good group of young players.
One such youngster is Joe Barker. At the start of the season Barker admits he was expecting this year to be spent on loan at neighbours Otley in a continuation of his Rugby education. He was however along with a number of others handed his senior debut in the early season encounter with promotion rivals Bristol, Leeds ran out 11-9 victors.
Barker had previously come on as a substitute in the opening two games of the season and has since started all of his side’s games. The Leeds head coach, Diccon Edwards is a former England academy and his faith in youth from his time with England is clear to see. He has provided many of the younger players at Leeds with a chance to play together at Senior level and they are developing into a strong side. Prior to last weekend’s defeat at the hands of Bristol they were on a seven game unbeaten run and are showing signs of developing into a strong young side.
Leeds are playing a risky game in going for a long term plan. The longer they stay out of the Premiership the harder it will be to return. They risk going the same way as former northern giants West Hartlepool, Liverpool St Helens and Otley. But if their plan works they will have developed a strong young side that has the potential to enable them to return to and maintain their position in the Premiership.