iT IS a case of first things first for Leeds Rhinos as they prepare to begin their Super-8s campaign at home to Warrington Wolves tonight.
Rhinos have three matches to get through before they face Hull KR in the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup final at Wembley on August 29.
And captain Kevin Sinfield said that big date has to be pushed to the back of the agenda as Rhinos aim to boost their hopes of a home semi-final in the league competition.
Rhinos went into the First Utility Super-8s with a slender one point lead at the top of the table and Sinfield insisted every game is vital, which means they can’t afford to have their focus anywhere but on the job at hand.
“It’s an important game,” Sinfield said of tonight’s opener against a team who did the home and away double over Leeds in the regular campaign.
“What they did to Cas a couple of weeks ago [a 44-6 win at the Jungle] is what we have to prepare for.”
Warrington are smarting from a shock Cup semi-final loss to Hull KR at Headingley six days ago.
“I didn’t watch the semi-final, so I am not really aware of how well or how indifferent they played,” Sinfield added.
“But I have to say that possibly their two best performances against anybody this year have been against Leeds home and away.
“They clearly like playing against us and with it being the start of the new competition and us being at home, it would be great for us to get the two points.
“People will talk about revenge missions, but it’s not that at all.
“I have great respect for Tony [Smith, Warrington’s coach] and his team and I think they are a great club.
“But I think it would be great for us to start the Super-8s with two points and it would give us a real shot in the arm moving forward in this competition.”
Four wins from their seven matches in the Super-8s would secure Rhinos’ place in the semi-finals.
But Sinfield said Rhinos are not just targeting a the top-four, they want to secure a home tie – by finishing first or second – and are focused on winning the league leaders’ shield.
Leeds have not topped the table since 2009 and Sinfield said: “I think it is pretty clear how well we want to do in this competition.
“Wembley will certainly take a back burner now while we do as well as we can in these next three games.
“They are all important for us, with two home games to start us up – against Warrington and Wigan – and then the tough away trip to Hull.
“We have got to focus on Friday and Warrington will pose a real threat.
“They will be wounded and they will come out and want to play like they have done against us earlier in the year.
“The challenge for us is to be really good and to be somewhere like we were last Friday and hopefully improve on that as we go forward.”
Rhinos are used to having one or two games between a Cup semi-final and the big day. This year it is three and Sinfield admitted: “It is a slightly different prep’, but I have to say the mood is really relaxed.
“I know what it has been like in different years, especially the first few years when we made it to Wembley.
“After the semi-final the place was bouncing for days on end and there was a lot of excitement.
“But this week it was straight back to normal and straight back to it.
“I think we all realise what a tough game Friday is going to be, so we have got to get ourselves ready.
“We have to make sure we go into the game with the right attitude, like we’ve had in training all week.”
Of the Super-8s, Sinfield added: “It is massively important.
“We’ve not been in a position like this for a long time, where all trophies are still up for grabs at the start of August.
“There’s a huge carrot dangling in front of all of us. We’d love to make it a good season for all of us and we’ll certainly give it our best shot.
“With it being a new competition and not quite knowing yet how things will pan out, we’ve got to go hard again like we did when Super League kicked off.
“We’ve got to make sure we’re as good as we can be every week.”
Rhinos are 4/1 to win the league leaders’ shield, Challenge Cup and Super League trophy this year, but Sinfield insisted “the treble” has not been mentioned by the players.
He said: “It’s the media that’s talking about that, I think.
“The boys are pretty relaxed and they look like they are pretty focused. I think the squad’s really driven.
“We are in August and there’s everything still to play for and we will certainly give it our best shot.”
Leeds Rhinos from: Hardaker, Briscoe, Watkins, Moon, Hall, Sinfield, McGuire, Cuthbertson, Aiton, Peacock, Delaney, Ablett, Singleton, Leuluai, Burrow, Garbutt, Keinhorst, Walters, Handley.
Warrington Wolves from: Asotasi, Clark, Currie, Dwyer, England, R Evans, Hill, G King, T King, Monaghan, O’Brien, Penny, Philbin, Ratchford, Sandow, Sims, Wheeler, Wilde, Myler.
Referee: James Child (Batley).
Kick-off: Tonight, 8pm.