Leeds’ convincing win over Catalans on Friday night was the perfect response to their defeat at Castleford, but Brian McDermott’s men now have to build on that display with a big few weeks coming up.
The 46-10 victory was comfortably the best the Rhinos have played in 2017. Following the humiliating result at the Mend-A-Hose Jungle just 8 days earlier, the players looked determined, angry and as if they had a point to prove; an attitude that clearly benefited Leeds, who always looked as though they were going to triumph. The Rhinos took the lead through Adam Cuthbertson in under 10 minutes and never looked back, going on to score 7 tries and playing their most attractive rugby in a long while.
This comes at a good time for a number of reasons. Firstly, it eased some of the pressure that has been mounting on both the players and more specifically Brian McDermott after a rusty start which has seen the Rhinos struggle to get into any kind of stride and calls for the coach to be sacked. And, although this one result doesn’t mean that McDermott is off the hook, in fact he’s far from it, he has at least shown that he can get good performances out of his current group of players and is starting to experiment with tactical and positional changes in an attempt to improve his side.
Secondly, it gives Leeds a much-needed morale boost ahead of two derbies in as many weeks with Wakefield and Huddersfield, as well as meetings with Wigan, Warrington and Hull FC afterwards. This period of the season could prove to have a huge say on where Leeds finish come July, so they will need to be at their best to have a chance of winning what will be five high intensity games. The win over Catalans has provided the blue and amber outfit a platform to go on a good run, but whether they take advantage of that and build on it remains to be seen.
The Rhinos also had to prove to the fans as well as themselves that they are capable of entertaining and scoring some points to win rather than just scraping home, which up until Friday was the best they had managed with narrow three and six point victories over Leigh and Salford respectively. They certainly did that. ‘Les Dragons’ may not have been at their best, but as ever in sport you can only beat what is put in front of you, and Leeds were clinical in taking their chances which has been a rarity over the past 13 months. That will have been a relief for everyone at the club, as their short comings in the attacking third of the field has played a big part in their fall from the top.
Now though, Leeds have to keep striving to improve. As impressive as they were at times in the Catalans game, it has taken far too long for the Rhinos to muster up a performance of that kind and with their inconsistencies who knows when they will come up with another unless they kick on from here. That has to be set as the benchmark for how they should be playing week in, week out- maybe not in terms of points scoring but certainly the determination and quality shown to win need to be maintained.
This can start in the tie with Wakefield this coming Friday. Trinity recorded a 16-20 win at Headingley in the 2016 regular rounds and ran riot there on Boxing Day in the last meeting between the two, so they will be wanting to extend their good run on enemy territory. Chris Chester’s team have already shocked St Helens by winning at the Totally Wicked Stadium this year and are on a high after their dramatic, late victory versus Salford on Sunday so will provide a stern test, but it is a game that Leeds really should be winning if they have ambitions of showing serious progress in 2017 and making the Super 8’s- or even making the Grand Final as Brian McDermott somewhat ambitiously claimed his team could achieve this campaign. A second successive win would be encouraging for Leeds going forward and may just propel them to better things, and a fourth win from six games would be seen as a good return considering their shortcomings thus far.
However, a loss or a return to the underwhelming style of rugby that Leeds have been so heavily criticised for would be yet another setback, something that the heavily under pressure Brian McDermott cannot really afford at this stage. The problems at the club right now are clear for all to see and as mentioned their most recent win does not mean that those problems have disappeared or can be ignored, but right now the Rhinos have an opportunity to prove that they are better than what most give them credit for which they simply have to take. If they don’t, then the negativity among a big portion of fans will re-surface and all the forward steps taken last Friday will have been for nothing.
Bragging rights and early season positioning are up for grabs this week as well as the two points, all of which are important, but the Rhinos also need to show that the rugby they played last week was something we can expect more of and was not just a fluke against an out of sorts Catalans. If they do that, then there will be much more confidence in what the Rhinos can produce between now and the end of the season.