RUGBY LEAGUE is a game of highs and lows and Leeds Rhinos winger Tom Briscoe has ridden the rollercoaster over the past two months.
The 27-year-old took the brunt of the blame after Rhinos were dumped out of the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup by his previous club Hull in a one-sided semi-final at the end of July.
Coach Brian McDermott kept faith in the former England man and he has produced a series of strong displays since that painful afternoon, culminating in a man-of-the-match performance in the 44-2 thrashing of Salford Red Devils three days ago.
McDermott made a point of praising Briscoe in his post-match press conference, paying tribute to the player’s “unbelievably strong character” and his “nerves of steel”.
The man himself admitted to being “pleased with my performance”, but stressed he needs to keep working hard and building form and confidence.
“I think I’ve been building over the last couple of weeks and it was nice to put in a decent performance,” Briscoe said.
“There has been a lot said over recent weeks, especially from the semi-final, but personally I think I’ve bounced back as well as I could do and hopefully I can keep that up until the end of the season.”
After the criticism of his Challenge Cup performance, Briscoe admitted staying positive was not easy.
“When that much gets said you try not to listen, but it is hard,” he conceded.
“I just tried to put that to the side and concentrate on myself and not put myself under too much pressure and it is starting to pay off a bit now.”
Briscoe’s try against Salford was his ninth in 31 games this year and came off a pin-point pass by Stevie Ward.
He joked: “It is one of the first times Stevie has passed it out that far and it came off – we might see that again in the future!
“It was nice to get over, it has been a while and it was a bit of a confidence-booster.
“It is nice to score tries, but the majority of my game is built on trying to get us out of our own half and working on kick returns.
“It is nice to get a try, but it is nice to see our kick returns and the start of our sets going well at the moment.”
Briscoe has a regular centre in England man Kallum Watkins, but Leeds have had a change of the other flank this year with Liam Sutcliffe taking over on the left side from Joel Moon who has converted to stand-off.
Briscoe reckons that switch shows signs of promise. Sutcliffe was also among the try scorers against Salford and Briscoe observed: “Sutty is going well, he showed some good touches on Friday and he is starting to come into his own.”
Rhinos crossed the Salford line eight times and Briscoe felt it was an encouraging performance two weeks before a sudden-death semi-final.
“We said we needed to bounce back from the Castleford game,” he said.
“Looking forward to the semi-final we know we need to be a bit more consistent in our performances.
“I thought it [Friday’s game] was a great response from the whole team. Defensively we were great and we scored some good long-range team tries as well.”
Rhinos will be looking for more of the same when they complete their Super-8s campaign at Huddersfield Giants on Friday.
“We know we are in second and we’ve got the home semi already, but we want to be building into that semi-final,” Briscoe added. “We can’t go into it on the back of bad performances and expect to get to the Grand Final and win it.
“We need to keep building and get our confidence and, I suppose, our teamwork together and making sure we are clicking for these last few games.
“With that [Friday’s] performance we have set a marker down for the last few games.”