The pressure is off Leeds Rhinos going into tonight’s top of the table battle with St Helens at Langtree Park, coach Brian McDermott says.
Saints have won their six games so far in First Utility Super League and are a point ahead of Rhinos, who are the competition’s only other unbeaten team.
The scene is set for a blockbuster showdown, but McDermott reckons home advantage and form makes Saints the favourites – despite their problems with injuries and suspensions.
And the Leeds boss revealed his team are taking a different mental approach to tonight’s clash than previous matches this season.
“Widnes two weeks ago was a very tricky game because they were a team in form,” he said. “But the pressure was on us because they are perceived to be a lesser team than us, by other people.
“Against London last week we were under a huge amount of pressure to perform. We were in a lose-lose situation.
“This is very different. Saints are the form team and we are the underdogs going into this game.
“It is going to be a tough task to to go their place, when they are on form and doing things right. They have shown the ability to come back in a tough battle at Wakefield last week and they will take a huge amount of confidence out of that. It is a big task for us.”
McDermott admitted tonight’s game won’t shape either team’s season, but is making no attempt to downplay its significance.
“It is a big game,” he stressed. “Saints are a very good side at the moment and they are playing very well.
“They are full of confidence and at their place it is going to be a huge game. It will be an indicator of where we are at.
“I think everybody’s aware it is not going to make or break anybody’s season. Should we lose it doesn’t mean too much in terms of going forward, though your ego takes a dent.
“If we do lose we will get a fair indication of where we are at and what things we need to work on.
“And if we win it doesn’t mean we are guaranteed anything. I think the season is up and running now though and we have to keep knocking these games off as we go.”
Tonight’s winners will be top of the table at the quarter-way stage in the regular season.
McDermott reckons the table is now beginning to take shape and the genuine title contenders will start to step forward.
“After about round 10 you know where you are at,” he said. “By round seven you have got a bit of an indicator, but we will have a better idea after this game.”
Saints will be below full-strength, with half-back Luke Walsh and prop Alex Walmsley sidelined through injury and Kyle Amor, Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook and Jon Wilkin all suspended. Walsh has been Saints’ star man this season, but McDermott observed: “Losing players hasn’t really affected Saints over the past few seasons.
“They have had injuries to important people, yet still produced some outstanding performances.
“Saints usually raise their game when they play Leeds, as we do against them. I am sure whoever takes to the field is going to be good enough.
“They have got a decent squad there and they have a policy of bringing young players through.
“They have done that over the last 10 years and their chairman Eamonn McManus does not have a knee-jerk reaction to either an injury or the loss of a player.
“They are prepared to put faith in a junior and it has paid dividends for them.”