Leeds Rhinos coach Brian McDermott says his players are excited rather than nervous about tomorrow’s Tetley’s Challenge Cup fifth round tie at home to St Helens.
The winners will secure a quarter-final place and eliminate one of their major rivals and McDermott stressed: “We know the importance of this game, it’s not lost on us what happens if we win – or if we lose.
“We are very aware of the outcomes and we know we are playing a huge team who we’ve just taken top spot [in First Utility Super League] off.
“It is two very good teams playing against each other.
“It is a big task and a big challenge and we are relishing it.
“The players have spoken really well about looking forward to the challenge, rather than fearing it.”
Saints won their opening nine league and cup games this season, but their unbeaten record ended at home to Wigan Warriors a week ago and they suffered a second successive defeat away to Widnes Vikings three days later.
Those results, couple with Rhinos’ back-to-back wins over the Easter period, lifted Leeds into pole position in the league and saw Saints drop to third, but McDermott insisted the visitors’ last couple of results will mean nothing tomorrow.
He said: “They lost one against Wigan, who are themselves a very good team, so you have got to put that into context.
“Then they lost to Widnes, who were coming off the back of a hiding against Warrington – and Saints had rested a number of players. If you look at each one of those games individually and put it into context, it is not the ideal scenario for them, but we won’t be reading too much into it.
“It gets said every year, but it’s true, that in cup games form and all that type of thing has little bearing on the outcome. I don’t think Saints are out of form at all.
“They have had two performances over Easter which they won’t be happy with, but they are still a very good team.”
The sides shared the spoils in Super League last year, with Rhinos winning at Langtree Park and Saints gaining revenge when they visited Headingley Carnegie.
A late Danny McGuire drop goal earned Leeds an 11-10 home win in the play-offs, but Saints – missing nine first choice players – pulled off a stunning 14-10 victory on their own turf last month, thanks to Tommy Makinson’s last-gasp touchdown.
That was Rhinos’ sole defeat this year.
Saints’ 14 points was the most conceded by Leeds in their 11 competitive games so far and they also became the only team to score more than two tries against McDermott’s men.
“We have looked at that game and there are one or two things we’ve picked up out of it,” McDermott said.
“We know certainly towards the later stages of that game there were certain players who stepped up and we have got to be aware of those.
“There will be different personnel on duty this week, but I think the way Saints play and the way we play won’t change dramatically.”
While Saints boss Nathan Brown rested several key players including Luke Walsh and Jonny Lomax for Monday’s game at Widnes, McDermott opted against wholesale changes, resting two players for each of his side’s holiday fixtures.
Stevie Ward (ankle) was injured against Bradford and will miss tomorrow’s game.
But Rhinos otherwise came through unscathed and McDermott is confident his players can handle a third game in 10 days.
“They can, because they do,” he said.
“They do it every year. It is only like playing on a Sunday-Friday turnaround, which we do on a regular basis. We have been doing this for a few years now and it’s not an issue for us. I think there could be a tendency to over-read into that.”
Tomorrow’s game will be broadcast live by the BBC, but McDermott has urged Rhinos fans to view the game from the stands and terraces, rather than their livingrooms.
“I hope people don’t take the easier option of watching from home,” he said. “I hope they do come to Headingley, which is a fantastic venue to watch sport.
“Saints are a huge team and we are going to need the crowd behind us.
“The crowd are a big part of what we do.
“Over Easter they turned out in force for both games and whenever we put in a big performance the crowd get a lot of credit for that.
“They do have a bearing on how emotional a state our players are in and that can help them through fatigue.
“It can help a player get into a tackle that maybe on another day they might not make.
“When the crowd’s behind them, making a lot of noise and being very supportive, it is worth at least two or three try-savers per game.”