PROGRESS IS being made, but Mitch Achurch admits injuries are having a massive bearing on Leeds Rhinos’ season.
Rhinos finished the 38-34 defeat at St Helens three days ago with no fit players on the bench and Achurch reckons that contributed to the defensive gaps which allowed the home team to score seven tries, to Leeds’ six.
On attack it was a much-improved effort by the reigning champions and Achurch said, for the first time there was a feeling they are recapturing some of the flair with the ball which won Rhinos every available trophy in 2015.
“We can’t account for some of the injuries we had during the game,” said the big forward, who will leave Leeds when his contract expires this autumn.
“The last 15-20 minutes we were looking to the bench and we had no one left.
“Some of our big fellas had to play a lot more minutes than they should have and it showed.
“Last year – and even this year when we are on defensively – it is all about our middle and them moving quickly and covering those holes.
“With a few injuries and limited interchanges, they were too tired to get there, but attacking-wise we put ourselves in a position to win it and that’s what matters.”
Rhinos hit back to lead 16-10 just before the break, after trailing 10-0 inside seven minutes.
In the second half they twice rallied from 10 points down and were attacking, in search of an equalising try, when the final hooter went.
It was the first time this year Rhinos have scored more than 30 points and their best attacking effort since the 50-0 Ladbrokes Challenge Cup-final demolition of Hull KR last August.
“At half-time we said it felt like the penny had dropped,” Achurch said.
“It was like what we were doing last year and things were coming off.
“We were still not 100 per cent, but that’s the first time it has felt like last year.”
Rob Burrow, who started at scrum-half and switched to hooker at the end of the first quarter, was at the heart of Leeds’ attacking effort.
Standing in for injured captain Danny McGuire, Burrow was Leeds’ best player for the second successive game and Achurch observed: “He is playing outstanding and that makes it a bit easier for us. Last year our game plan was pretty simple, it was send our big players in, get a play-the-ball win and then Rob would jump out and we’d all flood through.
“There was a little bit of that on Friday, so it is a bit of progression from where we’ve been earlier in the season.”
There were also big efforts from youngsters Ashton Golding, Ash Handley, Jordan Lilley and Liam Sutcliffe, and Achurch said that is a positive sign for the future.
Boss Brian McDermott is hopeful Brett Ferres, Adam Cuthbertson and McGuire could return from injury when Rhinos visit Huddersfield Giants on Friday for the opening leg of their Super League and Challenge Cup double-header.
But Carl Ablett missed the second half of the game three days ago due to an ankle problem and Brett Delaney (hamstring) and Zak Hardaker (concussion) also went off and could not return. Beau Falloon is carrying a back injury and Achurch said: “Hopefully no one is too major. It is a shame for Frog [Delaney] has had injuries all of the time, which is a bit of a worry.
“I am not sure how bad Abbo’s ankle is, but I think Zak will be all right. Hopefully we will have a few blokes back next week.”
Hull KR’s victory at Castleford yesterday means the Robins leapfrog Leeds into 10th place in the First Utility Super League table.