LEEDS RHINOS are determined to make Headingley Carnegie a “fortress” this season – beginning with tonight’s home opener against Warrington Wolves.
Rhinos lost three and drew one of 14 home league games in 2013 and half-back/hooker Rob Burrow reckons they need to do better this term.
“We’ve been good at times and then we’ve lost to teams we should be beating,” Burrow said. “Like every year, our home form is important this season. We don’t want to lose any game, especially at home.
“That is our mentality, we want Headingley to be a fortress and somewhere people fear coming – rather than just being a nice stadium and a nice pitch.
“We are looking to win on Friday night and hopefully have a good season at home.”
Burrow admitted the quality of their stadium is a mixed blessing for Leeds at times. “I am biased, but it is a fantastic stadium,” he said “I am sure if you asked most players at most teams what their favourite away ground is, they’d say Headingley.
“It’s everything about it – the pitch, the atmosphere, the facilities and the fact it’s a traditional stadium with all the history. That maybe goes against us sometimes, because it is so enjoyable to play at. We have got to make it so that on the pitch it’s not a nice place for opposition teams.
“That is just about playing well and being a good team.”
The challenge for Rhinos tonight is to kick on from last Sunday’s impressive round one victory at Hull KR.
“It was a great win, going to a tough place like that,” said Burrow. “We have had some embarrassments there in the past. It is always good to get the first win of the season, but especially at a tough place like that. It puts us in good stead for this week and our first home game against a classy team in Warrington. We have got some good things to build on and we will have to do that this week.”
Burrow added: “If we had won by one point we would have been happy. It was a good game for them, first home game of the season and the opening of their new stand.
“It was a big occasion and we’ve played in a lot of big occasions, opening of new stands and things like that. For us and to keep them to one try, in front of a big crowd of their supporters and for us to show some good skill early on in the season was really pleasing.
“Our right-edge combined really well and we were very happy with it. We weren’t perfect by a long shot, but to really turn it on in the second half and finish like that was good for us.”
Leeds regularly start well, but often fall away after two or three rounds. Burrow is confident they can avoid that this term.
“The positive of not being in the World Club Challenge is you don’t have that to focus on,” he said. “We want to be in it, but in the last few years we’ve focused on that and other games have been building up to it.
“We haven’t got that this year so there’s no distractions and no excuses. We believe we can beat anybody if we play well. We want to put in a good performance against Warrington, because we will need to.”
Warrington suffered a 38-8 drubbing by St Helens in their first game eight days ago, but Burrow stressed: “We aren’t reading anything into that. They have got quality throughout, but St Helens are a good team as well.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of games like that this year. Teams are all capable of beating each other, it is that competitive. They are playing Leeds and they will want to play their best. We know we have to play at our best to beat a team like Warrington. It is usually a good game when we play them. It’s two of the big teams in the league and both sides like to put on a show. It is always a fiery, tough, fast game. Despite it only being round two it will be like that. It is a big game for both teams early on and both sides will be treating it that way.”
Despite the loss of some of their most experienced campaigners from recent seasons, Burrow believes Wolves – beaten Grand Finalists in 2012 and 2013 – will be among the challengers for honours this year “without doubt”.
He said: “We know Tony Smith is a class coach. He gets the best out of sides and I have no doubts they will be there or thereabouts, as they have been for the last few years.
“These games are vital, you need to get wins in games like this. Even though there’s still 26 rounds to go they count towards where you finish in the league and these are the teams you’ve got to beat.” As for his own ambitions this season, Burrow said: “I feel great. I am really determined to have a great year. I know everybody says it, but I am. It is the first time in ages I haven’t had any niggles and I feel spot on at the moment. I am excited about it and I want to take it out on to the pitch. This season is something I’ve been looking forward to.”
Meanwhile, Leeds Rhinos Under-16s begin their season against Warrington Wolves at Stanningley tomorrow (noon).