LEEDS RHINOS will go into Friday’s home derby with Castleford Tigers in good spirits, says second-row Carl Ablett.
Rhinos warmed up with a 58-0 win over Featherstone Rovers in the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup and Ablett reckons both sides of their game are improving.
Tigers will provide a much sterner test as they attempt to bounce back from a shock Challenge Cup exit against Hull, but Leeds have two extra days to recover and prepare and Ablett feels they are in good shape.
“It was good to put on some points,” Ablett said of the Cup quarter-final success.
“Fev are a good team and they are strong defensively, but we picked them apart and some passages of play in the second half were exciting.
“It showed some of the combinations are starting to pay off.
“The main focus for us in the last few weeks has been defensively so it was pleasing to keep them to zero and we can take a bit of confidence into this week.”
Rhinos have kept two clean sheets in their last five games, following a 40-0 win over Warrington Wolves almost a month ago. With Castleford boasting the best attack in Super League, Ablett reckons that is a good sign - and he feels improved performances with the ball are boosting Rhinos’ defence.
“Defence is something we pride ourselves on,” he said.
“We put a lot of emphasis on our defence and I think we’re seeing the rewards from that.
“I think it helps when you’re starting to challenge a bit more offensively, it takes a bit more out of the other team.
“The game is a vicious cycle and I think we’ve had a good balance in the last few games of being good offensively – which wears them down – and we’ve been able to defend better as well.”
Rhinos will have to be at their best in both aspects on Friday.
Tigers have won the teams’ last six meetings, including two already this year, and Ablett observed: “They are the best attacking team in the competition by a mile. They have found a way of playing and they execute really well. They have got a plan of what they need to do and where they need to get to and how to execute their plays.
“You can tell they work on that a lot and they execute really well.
“We’ve got to make sure we deal with what they throw at us and, on the flip side of that, we’ve got to attack well and take some juice out of them and make them defend and use up some energy.”
Ablett, 31, has set his sights on reaching 300 appearances for Rhinos this year.
The win over Rovers was his 300th career game and 288th for Leeds.
“I knew the 300 for Leeds was coming up,” said the former England and London Broncos forward. “It is pretty pleasing, 300 is a fair amount of games. I’ll just keep going and see how many I can get.”
Meanwhile, Rhinos’ Challenge Cup semi-final against Hull will be staged at Keepmoat Stadium, Doncaster, on Saturday, July 29 (2.30pm). Tickets will go on sale through Rhinos at 10am tomorrow.
Prices for adults are from £20 with a £3 discount available to season ticket holders. Concessions cost from £15, with a £2 discount and junior tickets are from £10, with a £1 discount.
Meanwhile, no Rhinos players were charged after the Rugby Football League’s match review panel studied the win over Featherstone.