OFF-COLOUR Leeds Rhinos must play themselves back to health, coach Brian McDermott says.
McDermott admits Rhinos are ailing, but sees tonight’s visit of Huddersfield Giants as an opportunity to get themselves back on their feet.
Rhinos have lost two of their last three First Utility Super League fixtures and were given a huge fright by lower division Leigh Centurions in the Tetley’s Challenge Cup last week.
And McDermott stressed: “I would not say we are in a slump, but we recognise our performances have certainly dipped. “This week we have not talked about who we have got missing or who is injured, we have talked about playing well.
“If we play well we can maybe start looking at reasons why we won or lost, but we have got to look at playing well first. That is something we didn’t do against Warrington or against Leigh.”
Rhinos won’t drop below second in the table whatever happens in this week’s round 16, but a defeat to sixth-placed Huddersfield – who are just five points adrift – would increase the pressure as they fight for a top-two finish.
McDermott insisted it is “too early” to focus on the league ladder, adding: “We don’t mind admitting we would like to get top spot and finish as league leaders.
“Should we lose [tonight] I don’t think it makes that task impossible. But playing well is significant for us.
“If we play poorly and have a scratchy game, but we beat Huddersfield, we are not healthy – that does not mean the team is
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healthy. At the moment we are not healthy given the last two performances. What we need to be is healthy in terms of how we defend, how we attack and how we handle moments in the game when we have not got momentum.
“We were healthy earlier in the season and we have got to get back to putting those performances together and then – it is an old cliche – the league table takes care of itself.”
Giants present a formidable obstacle for Rhinos, who haven’t beaten tonight’s visitors since a play-offs tie in 2011.
The 12-12 draw earlier this season ended a run of five straight defeats by Huddersfield and McDermott said: “While it (Rhinos’ recent record against them) does not make good reading, looking at how they have gone for the last two or three years it is no real surprise, in that they are a good team, with some very good players.
“They have got one of the most well-balanced squads in the game and they have had a strong squad ever since Jon Sharp was in charge.
“They have had a very aggressive recruitment strategy, they have gone out and picked some of the best and most consistent performers at other clubs and they have a very good squad, with a lot of confidence and ability.”
Rhinos will go into tonight’s game without in-form full-back Zak Hardaker, who is beginning a five-match ban imposed for what the RFL described as “verbal abuse based on sexual preference” in the defeat at Warrington.
McDermott said: “We feel we had a fair hearing and we accept the punishment handed out. Zak has held his hand up and never denied making an offensive remark, but he is not homophobic and the headlines have been inaccurate. He was found guilty of using offensive language.”
But Jamie Peacock will feature tonight, despite admitting Grade B punching against Leigh. He was fined, but not banned and McDermott said: “That is a big boost for the team, because he is an important part of what we do.
“The RFL have recognised there was some severe provocation in his momentary loss of control and it’s the first time he has done that in over 500 games, which was also recognised.”