LEEDS RHINOS chief executive Gary Hetherington hopes the club’s squad will return “refreshed” after a mid-season break and readied to make a big final push in their troubled campaign.
The players are stepping up preparations now for Sunday’s visit of Widnes Vikings having had the rarity of a blank weekend.
While others were battling it out in the Challenge Cup quarter-finals, Leeds have been able to rest up ahead of a crucial period of the season for the champions, who now find themselves bottom of Super League.
“With us being in the Challenge Cup final the last two years, and playing the World Club Challenge, too, this is the first time we’ve had a weekend free during the regular season in three years,” Hetherington told the YEP.
“The players have had some time off. I think Adam Cuthbertson and Stevie Ward both went to Barcelona and one or two others took a short break away.
“Hopefully they will all come back in feeling refreshed and ready to hit-on in the rest of the season.”
Leeds, who have won their last two games to arrest a worrying slide, hope to have a further raft of players fit again to take on Widnes at the weekend after both Ryan Hall and Zak Hardaker returned in the win at Wakefield Trinity Wildcats.
It is some much-needed good news after an injury-ravaged campaign and a real boost as they prepare for the likely event of the Qualifiers.
“In many ways, in terms of the season we’ve had to endure, we’re heading into Round 20 but are only just getting our best side out since Round 2,” added Hetherington.
“If we get Brett Delaney, Carl Ablett and Tom Briscoe back in this week then, all of a sudden, it’s the first time we’ll have players in the squad who are not actually getting picked.
“I don’t think that’s happened since Round 2, either.”
Leeds, of course, could mathematically still reach the top eight if they beat eighth-placed Widnes, win their other remaining regular fixtures and the Vikings don’t pick up a point.
Granted, it is a far-fetched scenario but Hetherington said: “Obviously teams are capable of winning four on the trot and, also, losing four on the trot.
“We’ve just got to look at it as a block of four games – Widnes at home, Hull away, Wigan at home and Hull KR away – that are four huge matches for us.
“We’ll take each as it comes and see where it takes us.”
Meanwhile, in a further boost, the official re-opening of the club’s training ground at Kirkstall will take place on Friday – more than six months after it was decimated during the Boxing Day floods.