AN IMPROVED performance is being called for when Leeds Rhinos travel to Widnes Vikings on Sunday.
Rhinos’ inexperienced team – missing 10 members of the elite 25-man senior squad – were widely praised for a spirited display at high-flying Huddersfield Giants last Sunday, despite the final 40-18 scoreline.
But coach Brian McDermott felt some soft defence let the Rhinos down and he is demanding they tighten up against a Widnes team who gave the champions a fright before being beaten 38-28 at Headingley Carnegie just 12 days ago.
“We have got to be careful we don’t just pat ourselves on the back and say that was an encouraging performance (last week) that showed guts and determination and we feel good about it,” said McDermott.
“We recognise some of that, we do recognise a lot of people out there are really giving it a go.
“I thought Carl Ablett was very good last week in his first game for a while and once again Ian Kirke was very good and JP (Jamie Peacock) ran his blood to water.
“But, at the same time, we let in too many soft tries and we aim to be better than that at all levels.”
Rhinos’ defence was a strong point earlier in the campaign, but they have conceded 20 or more points in eight of their last nine matches.
That has coincided with their run of injuries, but McDermott is not accepting excuses.
He said: “Maybe because of the disruption we’ve got it fatigues people and concentration levels dip. We know that, it’s not that we are having an injury crisis during the game. We know what team we are fielding, therefore we have to plan and operate accordingly.
“That means your communication and your talk with each other and your awareness, near your own tryline especially, needs to be extremely high.”
The positive for Rhinos is that young and fringe players are getting an unexpected opportunity at elite level.
Teenagers Thomas Minns, Liam Sutcliffe and Jordan Baldwinson have all made their debut and Jimmy Keinhorst and Brad Singleton have impressed after being recalled for dual-registration at Hunslet Hawks. “That’s what’s happening at the moment,” continued McDermott. “It’s not something we planned for, it is a by-product of what’s happening.
“They are getting game time at the moment and we’ll reap the rewards of that in 18 months’ time, hopefully.
“But, at the moment, that’s not something I am focusing on, because I am getting ready for Widnes.”
After their near-miss earlier this month, McDermott reckons Widnes will be relishing the chance to clash with a weakened Leeds side on their own ground.
“At the moment, teams will be rubbing their hands together,” he conceded.
“Widnes were very good with the ball last time, we said that after the game.
“I’m sure they will be using that as part of their build up and they will be excited about us going to their ground.”
Rhinos under-19s face Widnes in a curtain-raiser tomorrow (12.30pm).