CLOSE GAMES are toughening Leeds Rhinos up for the play-offs, England winger Tom Briscoe reckons.
Last week’s 22-18 victory at Salford Red Devils was the latest thriller involving Rhinos, with the result going right down to the final seconds.
Of Rhinos’ five defeats this year, two have been by four points and two by two points, their only loss by more than one score being a 24-6 hammering at Warrington Wolves.
They have also drawn twice and beat Catalan Dragons by a point with a goal after the hooter.
It was another close tussle at AJ Bell Stadium, with Leeds holding on to their four-point advantage throughout a tense final quarter.
Briscoe said: “We made it a bit tough for ourselves in the end, but it was good to come away with two points.”
He added: “Throughout the season there’s going to be close games and I think the more you can close those sorts of games out the better you’ll finish.
“The last couple of games we’ve been edged out or just got the draw so it’s nice to just come away with the win.
“I wish we could make it easier for ourselves in the end and on our hearts.
“There’s a lot of close games this year, like the draw Castleford got at Hull (last week).
“Cas were a bit off that game, but they managed to get a point out of it.
“That’s the main thing, if you keep the points tally ticking over you will end up near the top.
“These close games are good for us. We’ve got Warrington coming up (in a Tetley’s Challenge Cup semi-final) and that will be tough, but all the practice we can get in these tough, close games – making sure we can edge them out and get win in last 10 minutes – is good practice to take into that.”
Briscoe set up a first-half try for Kallum Watkins, but also made some important interventions on defence and was on hand to ground a kick behind Leeds’ line in the final seconds as Salford looked for an equalising try.
“There was a lot of pressure on our line for a few sets,” he reflected of the dramatic finish, which saw Rhinos hold out under fierce pressure.
“It was just my job really to make that ball dead and sort the team out really.”
There was just half a minute left when Briscoe conceded that goal line drop out and the former Hull man admitted he had been keeping on eye on time ticking down on the official clock.
“Obviously you are clock watching, kind of, when it’s tight and they’re on a roll, but you just have to hold on for those last few seconds to complete it and get the ball back. There was a lot of pressure on us. They pushed us all the way there and it was very tight in the end.”
Leeds’ victory ended Salford’s three-match winning run, but coach Iestyn Harris’ side are still in with a chance of qualifying for the play-offs, despite a poor first half of the season. Briscoe said: “If they can make the eight I think they have got a good shot, the way they played (on Friday). They kept going right up to the 80th minute.”
Salford scored first, but two tries – the second created by Briscoe – gave Rhinos the lead, before the home team made it all square at the break.
Rhinos’ second touchdown came from a searing break by Briscoe, who then turned the ball inside for his centre Watkins to cross.
“It’s good to know we can score tries from all over the pitch,” he reflected.
“Obviously we’ll be in our own half quite a bit coming into the tougher games and we need to be able to score from anywhere.”
Rhinos, who are at home to Bradford Bulls in four days’ time, are still in the hunt for the league leaders’ shield, but Briscoe admitted they can’t afford to suffer any more slip-ups. That will mean focusing on this Friday’s fixture, rather than looking ahead to the following weekend’s semi-final, he said.
“We’ve got an aim of getting top and we can’t look too far ahead or our other goals will be lost,” he conceded.
“We need to keep racking points up to get as far up the table as we can and focus on semi-final come the week after Bradford.”
Bulls are already relegated and will be visiting Headingley Carnegie for the final time, for at least a season.
Briscoe predicted: “I am sure they’ll come out firing. They’ll be up for it, knowing they’re relegated. They’ll be coming to prove a point especially in a big derby as well.”
Briscoe is looking to pick up his own form as Rhinos get into the business end of the campaign.
“I am enjoying it,” he said. “I think the last couple of games have been good for myself and I am looking to carry that on going into the play-offs and Challenge Cup.”