A HUGE defensive effort in their last game has given Leeds Rhinos a lift as they prepare for back-to-back First Utility Super League blockbusters.
Rhinos produced one of their best defensive displays of the season to restrict Hull to only one try in last week’s Ladbrokes Challenge Cup quarter-final and hooker Paul Aiton says they need to repeat that against St Helens tomorrow and at Wigan Warriors a week today.
Rhinos have conceded more points than six of their rivals this year, despite sitting top of the table, but Aiton said last week’s game proved they can keep their line intact under pressure, as well as adapt to changing conditions.
“The rain affected how we wanted to play,” Aiton admitted. “What we planned for we had to change, but defensively each player just played for each other.
“It was a short turnaround for both sides and you could see that in both teams, but we just worked really hard for each other. I think that’s why the score was like it was. I think it will stand us in good stead. It showed to each other what we can do and it builds the trust within the group, which is a good thing to have.”
Rhinos were without six first-choice players through injury last week, including three who had featured in the previous game. Liam Sutcliffe is out for the rest of the year and Mitch Achurch and Tom Briscoe remain on the long-term casualty list, but Aiton reckons Rhinos have proved their squad is strong enough to cope in the big games coming up.
“Sutty is big for us,” the hooker conceded. “Magsy (Danny McGuire) is a key player for us and we missed him last week, but we got on with it.
“We defended for each other and played for each other and that showed out there. I think the way we played – especially in defence – is good for us going into the next few weeks.”
Tomorrow’s game is a dress rehearsal for the sides’ Challenge Cup semi-final on July 31. Aiton admitted: “I appreciated the journey in the Challenge Cup last year and now I have been there, it is that good and that big an experience, I just want it again. I want it even more this year than I did last year.”