THE neck-and-neck tussle at the top of First Utility Super League is great preparation for the play-offs, says Leeds Rhinos coach Brian McDermott.
Just four points separate the top five teams and, with six rounds remaining in the regular season, the race for the league leaders’ shield is wide open.
Rhinos – who are third – and second-placed Wigan Warriors both had a spell on the top of the table last weekend, before St Helens went a point clear after a big win at London Broncos.
Wigan and Leeds are separated by for and against, with Castleford Tigers a point behind in fourth and fifth-placed Warrington Wolves a further point back, two clear of last year’s table-toppers Huddersfield Giants.
Leeds travel to Salford Red Devils, who are mounting a late push for the play-offs, on Friday knowing a defeat could end their hopes of top spot.
McDermott said: “It’s good that it’s so tight. If you asked me if I’d like to be 10 points clear, I’d probably say ‘yes’. But, at the same time, I am not sure about that.
“Everybody in the top five or so could finish top and that’s how it should be.
“St Helens are top at the moment, Wigan are second and we are third. We have got to play both those teams towards the back end this year and we will turn that around.”
Last Thursday’s draw with Castleford Tigers was the latest in a series of close matches involving Leeds.
There has been less than a converted try between the teams in five of Rhinos’ last nine league games.
And McDermott said: “What we have been involved in is some unbelievable contests, once again.
“I remember this time last year, when the season started getting to its climax, we were involved in some massive, intense games.
“It seems every game we play is a tough game. I can’t remember an easy game, whether we score a lot of points or whether we lose or win, they are tough, intense games.
“There is no quarter given to us, whether that be the officials, or the bounce of the ball or the way we play.
“While it’s not easy week-in, week-out dealing with that – it makes your job hard to operate at that level – in actual fact it’s what you want. You want to be running at that intensity week-in and week-out, because, at the end of the year, you have got to be like that.”
Salford hooker Tommy Lee will miss Friday’s match against Leeds through suspension.
Lee, who faced a grade B offence of a shoulder charge arising from the 38-18 win at Hull KR, submitted an early-guilty plea and received a one-match ban.
The Red Devils will have the services of winger Josh Griffin and second-row Matty Ashurst after both avoided bans after admitting grade A offences committed in the same match.
Hull KR’s Travis Burns and Adam Walker submitted early-guilty pleas to charges of punching and are free to face London on Saturday.