CARL ABLETT is predicting a crunching contest when Leeds Rhinos visit Castleford Tigers tonight.
It is the sides’ first meeting of the year and they go into it as two of the in-form teams in First Utility Super League.
“It is a tough place to go,” Ablett said of Mend-A-Hose Jungle. “It is a big game and they get up for these big games.
“We are hearing the atmosphere’s good over there and I am sure our fans will be travelling in great numbers, so it will be a good atmosphere to play in. It is two in-form teams, so we are really looking forward to it. We have got some momentum behind us and hopefully we can continue that.”
Rhinos are on a six-match winning run, including back-to-back home successes against key rivals St Helens – in the Tetley’s Challenge Cup – and Wigan Warriors.
They have the best defence in the competition and second most potent attack, after Tigers, but Ablett stressed nobody in the camp is getting carried away with their recent form.
“We never have,” he said. “All year we have been making sure we’re not resting on what we’ve done.
“We know we’ve got improvements in us.
“We had a good look at last week’s video and we’ve been preparing hard for Cas. I’ve seen bits of them and they attack really well, so we are going to have to be really good. I am sure it will be a really tough game.”
Cas were tipped by many pundits to be relegation candidates this year, after finishing third from bottom in 2013, but their form has been impressive since Daryl Powell took charge 12 months ago and they sit third in the table after 11 rounds.
Ablett, a former team-mate of Cas’ ex-Leeds players Jordan Tansey, Weller Hauraki and Ashley Gibson, insisted he isn’t surprised by how well they have done this season.
He said: “If you look at their squad it is a deep squad and they have got some good players. Their front-row is impressive with Andy Lynch and Craig Huby and Weller’s having a good season, which he always had the potential to do.
“Daryl is a good, English coach and he has got them playing well and defending well. It is no surprise with the players they have got and we definitely won’t be taking them lightly.
“We’ve had a good look at them and we are looking forward to the game. It is always tough when we play there, no matter how they are doing in the league. The fans are passionate there and they have got a hatred for Leeds, but we will just focus on the performance we can give.
“It is just another place to play, another piece of grass and we will try and focus on what we’ve been doing and hopefully we can defend as well as we can.
“If we do that it will give us a good shot at getting the two points.”
Last week’s 28-12 win over Wigan was an indication of what Rhinos could achieve this year, but Ablett insisted they still have key improvements to make.
“A few of the combinations are not quite right yet,” he said. “Our scramble defence was good, but we were disappointed with the tries we conceded last week.
“They (Wigan) scored two sloppy tries and we have prided ourselves on not conceding tries like that, so it was disappointing. We are still adjusting and tweaking things and with the injuries we’ve got we have got to go back to square one a bit and try to work out a game plan that is going to work.
“I am sure Brian (coach Brian McDermott) will come up with a plan for (tonight).”
Ablett was named at scrum-half last week – and has played at stand-off on three occasions in Super League in the past – but continued in his regular second-row role.
Chris Clarkson and Kevin Sinfield shared the hooking role in the absence of Rob Burrow and Paul Aiton, though McDermott has hinted he may try something different tonight.
Ablett said: “Rob has been one of the in-form players in our team and what he does is unique.
“There isn’t a player in the game like him. I think we adjusted last week and it showed we can adapt.
“Clarky and Kev rolled around a bit there and did it to good effect. We are going to miss Rob, but I am sure we will adapt and we’ll try and attack in different areas.”
Rhinos have had five days to prepare for tonight – two more than Tigers, who lost at Huddersfield last Sunday – but Ablett, doesn’t expect that to give the visitors an advantage.
“They are going to be fired up,” he stressed. “I am sure they’ve had this planned.
“It has not been sprung on them. I am sure they will have recovered well. They have got a big squad and not many injuries, so they’ve been able to rotate a few.
“Daryl has handled that really well. He has chopped and changed a bit and kept them fresh. Whichever team they put out, it will be a good game.”