AUSSIE FORWARD Mitch Achurch is confident Leeds Rhinos’ big-game know-how will see them right this week.
Rhinos will go into Saturday’s Tetley’s Challenge Cup semi-final on the back of a 20-14 Super League defeat at home to relegated Bradford Bulls.
That was the worst possible preparation for such a crucial tie, but Achurch said: “I will be looking to some of the more experienced blokes.
“When we finished Friday’s game all the boys who have experienced these sorts of situations said ‘let’s put that one to bed and concentrate on what we can do next week’.
“I trust that they know what they are talking about and they said we are in really good shape, other than we rested a few players and we really missed them. We will see what the team is this week and we will go from there.”
Leeds made a succession of errors against Bradford and Achurch admitted ball control is the main thing they need to put right this week. I don’t think we were expecting the wet weather, after all the sunshine we’ve had,” he said. “The last four weeks we have been training with a dry ball and then all of a sudden that happens.
“It affected myself as much as anyone. We were pretty happy with our intensity in defence, but when you are doing that much of it any team is going to walk through you.
“We are going to have to concentrate on not so much completions, but being a bit smarter when we’ve got the ball and holding on to it in important areas of the field.”
Rhinos began the weekend two points behind St Helens – who went into round 23 as league leaders – and that remained the case after the Merseyside outfit’s shock loss at Hull. Despite having lost five of their last 11 league games Rhinos remain in with a real chance of finishing top of the First Utility Super League table and Achurch feels they are in a strong position.
But he stressed: “We have got to put it all to bed and concentrate on the Challenge Cup. We want that trophy really bad and everyone’s doing everything they can to get that. It is a missed opportunity, but we haven’t got time to think about that now – we have got to move on to this week.”
Warrington have also been in shaky form, suffering successive losses to Widnes Vikings and Wakefield Trinity Wildcats before pulling off an impressive victory away to Catalan Dragons last Friday night.
“I can’t put a finger on why they are not playing as well as they can and it’s the same with us,” Achurch observed. “We have pretty much got everyone fit and raring to go, but it is just not clicking yet.
“I suppose this week it will be about who prepares the best. We are going to come in on Monday and be ready to rip in, because every second counts at training and we have got to get it right.”
Achurch feels Leeds will benefit from having a full week to prepare for the semi-final. “That’s the good thing about rugby league,” he said. “There’s always next week. The defensive attitude we showed on Friday can win a semi-final of the Challenge Cup, but offensively we need to fix that up. Hopefully we will have a bit more of a drier track on Saturday, but we are not going to blame the weather because both teams had to play in the same conditions and we didn’t do it as well as Bradford.”
For Achurch, the semi-final will be arguably the biggest game of his career so far. He said: “Coming from back home in Australia, when I was at Penrith we kept coming second-last or third-last and we were playing in those games when we were trying not to get the wooden spoon – a bit like Bradford and London.
“Now being in a team that’s expected to win, these big games are really exciting. It is a different atmosphere at training and a different preparation.
“It is different for me and I am looking forward to it. I am not happy with how I went on Friday, but we are all going to look at our game and say that wasn’t good enough.
“We’ve got a week to get ready for Saturday and I want to enjoy the build-up to it. Who knows how long I’ll be at Leeds for and how many times I will get an opportunity to play in these sorts of games? I am looking forward to it, all the boys have told me it is an enjoyable week and I will just put my head down and try and take it all in.”
Achurch is now in his second season at Leeds and is still struggling to shake off the injury hoodoo which has dogged him since he joined the club. He was sidelined for part of last season due to knee and ankle injuries and suffered a similar issue earlier this year.
“I have had a nightmare with injuries,” he admitted. “It is one after another and they are all sort of related. It’s one of those where I break down because something is not ready to go yet and I try and rush it back sometimes.
“I could probably have played against Salford, but I just needed an extra week to make sure I was okay. I had a bit of a scare on Friday when I slipped over, but it just proves my knee is ready to go. I pulled up all right, a bit of ice over the weekend and I’ll be ready to go.”