THE NEXT few games will prove if Leeds Rhinos are genuine contenders this year, according to strong-running prop Mitch Garbutt.
Rhinos are at home to Betfred Super League leaders Castleford Tigers tonight and play host to old rivals St Helens in six days’ time. They complete the regular Super League season with trips to second-placed Salford Red Devils and defending champions Wigan Warriors either side of a Headingley meeting with fourth-placed Hull.
“We’ve got a good run to see where we are at,” Garbutt said of the final five rounds.
“They are big games for us and games we need to win.
“We are looking at performing in all of them.”
Rhinos also have a Challenge Cup semi-final against Hull looming next month.
“I don’t think anyone will forget about that,” Garbutt said.
“It is exciting – we are one game from going to Wembley if we can perform well that day, but it’s a different competition.
“We are going into this [tonight’s game] focusing on the league.”
Rhinos were embarrassed 66-10 by Tigers at the Jungle in March and lost 29-18 when the sides met at the Magic Weekend less than a month ago. Defeat tonight would virtually end their hopes of regaining the league leaders’ shield and Garbutt admitted they are in the last chance saloon.
“They are within reach, but some things have to go our way and we will have to perform well as well,” he said.
“It is a big game in the scheme of things. We want to win every game and they have beaten us twice this year so we are looking forward to a good challenge.”
Tigers were in action, in hot conditions, at Hull last Sunday, where they lost 32-24. Rhinos have had two extra days’ rest following their Ladbrokes Challenge Cup win over Featherstone Rovers a week ago. Garbutt said that might be a “little bit of a factor”, but he warned: “I don’t think it will have too much effect.
“Everyone’s professional now, they know how to recover.
“Obviously they have got a shorter turnaround, but I don’t think it’ll be too much of a hassle – they won’t use it as an excuse I don’t think.”
Garbutt stressed Rhinos are reading nothing into Tigers’ result last weekend.
“They didn’t win on Sunday, but they didn’t play bad,” he noted. “A few things didn’t stick for them, but there’s a reason they are six points ahead of everyone. They’ve played really well this year and they’ve been the form team in the competition. I don’t think anyone should think because of what happened last week they aren’t the best team in the comp, because they are.”
Tonight will be Garbutt’s fourth game back in the side after a four-match lay-off and he is looking to build some consistency.
“It has been a bit of a stop-start year for me, but I’ve got a few games under my belt now and I’m feeling good,” he said.
“Everyone’s doing a good job at the moment and I’ve just got to slot in and do my job. I am happy with the way I am going, to be honest.”