LEEDS RHINOS are going into the new season in the best-possible shape, coach Brian McDermott says.
McDermott – now the club’s longest-serving Super League coach – admitted the proof is in the pudding, but reckons Rhinos have all the boxes ticked ahead of tomorrow’s trip to Hull KR.
The Challenge Cup holders had most of their squad in training since November, won all five pre-season games and have only one player on the injury list.
“You can never tell and we are all winners in pre-season, nobody loses any points,” McDermott said.
“But you have got to be in reasonable shape to start with and there’s certainly going to be some challenges in the first six, seven or eight rounds.
“We need to be in good nick at this stage of the season and we are.
“We’re healthy and we’ve had a pretty thorough pre-season and a pretty tough one, emotionally as well as physically because of how last season finished.”
Rhinos have Super League’s best opening day record, with only two defeats from 19 matches, the last being at home to Wakefield Trinity Wildcats in 2000.
But they are looking for their first Super League win since last July and to end a run of five league and play-off defeats, which brought last season to a sudden halt.
“If anything, we are very, very excited about what it might look like this
year,” McDermott said. “We’ve gone through a little bit of a transition about what we want to do on the field, especially in attack and let’s hope some of those things bear fruit for the first five or six rounds.
“I am sure there’ll be some obstacles and some teething problems, but no matter what’s in front of you, you have to get to day one of the season, at the end of pre-season, in good nick, fitness-wise, structurally and in your own mind. So far we are heading where we want to be.”
Rovers have signed 13 players in the off-season, with 14 members of last year’s squad no longer at the club.
McDermott said that has made it hard to prepare for what the opposition will throw at them, but also ensures Rhinos will be fully switched on.
“I think they are an unknown entity,” he conceded.
“In terms of how they are going to play and how they are going to defend, there’s some difficulty in that.
“But in fact it is going to put us on our guard – and we need to be on our guard. It is one of the tougher grounds to go to.
“It’s always hard to go to Wigan and Saints and get a win, but they are good places to play as well.
“People talk about Headingley and say they like to come to Headingley, even though it’s going to be be a tough day.
“At Hull KR the dressing rooms are like a matchbox. It’s hard to get anything from our crowd because they put them in East Hull somewhere and they have to watch the game from four miles away.
“So it is a tough place to go and we’ve got them early in the season again, in the first round like we did last year.
“It is going to be cold and frosty and windy, like it always is. They have new staff and new players and we don’t know what to expect, but we do know it’s going to be a tough day.
“I think if you go over there with a right attitude that’s important, it is a big part of the day getting your attitude right.”
Keiron Cunningham tasted success in his first game as St Helens coach with an 18-7 victory over Catalans Dragons that saw former Australia centre Willie Tonga knocked out just 12 seconds into his Super League debut.
Atelea Vea and Andre Savelio were among the try scorers for the champions.