LEEDS RHINOS are preparing to take a leap into the dark.
Finishing ninth in First Utility Super League means Rhinos will fight for their top-flight survival in the middle-eights Qualifiers.
They will face bottom-four Super League rivals Salford Red Devils, Hull KR and Huddersfield Giants, plus the Kingstone Press Championship’s leading quartet of Leigh Centurions, London Broncos, Batley Bulldogs and Featherstone Rovers.
The lower division clubs are an unknown quantity to Rhinos, who will meet Batley for the first time in a competitive game since 1979 and whose most recent first-team fixture against Featherstone was 16 years ago.
Australian prop Mitch Garbutt admitted the competition is “foreign territory” and insisted Leeds’ best policy is to concentrate on getting their own game right.
Garbutt, a member of the team which won all three available domestic trophies last year, said: “You have just got to take it week by week and focus on what you can bring to the team and how you can help the team.
“If you do that and everyone does their job, the rest takes care of itself.”
Fixtures for the Qualifiers are due to be confirmed tomorrow. Leeds, the top-ranked team in the new competition, have home games against Salford, Hull KR, Leigh and Batley and will travel to Huddersfield, London and Featherstone.
Garbutt stressed: “We are not thinking any game is a guaranteed win, that’s for sure, but four home games is something we set our sights on when we got that little sniff of finishing ninth.
“We are the best-supported team in the competition and every time we play at Headingley we get a boost.”
Garbutt returned in last Thursday’s 24-20 win at Hull KR after missing the previous week’s victory over Wigan due to a back problem.
He has two weeks to recover for the next game and said: “I survived – my back feels pretty good.
“Obviously it was disappointing to miss out against Wigan, but I am all right. We are going into this week hard to make sure we are ready for the eights.
“It is foreign territory for everybody at Leeds, but we will just have to do the best we can on the opposition every game.
“We have got to look to improve every week and I think if we do all the little things right and everyone looks to improve every game we will put some good performances in.”
Rhinos will go into the Qualifiers on a run of five wins from their last six Super League games, but Garbutt described the performance at KC Lightstream Stadium as “a bit scrappy in the end”.
He said: “We were happy to get the win and four home games and we said after it that is what we are expecting in the middle-eights. We knew it was going to be a tough game and it was and I think we probably needed that coming into the eights. I think it was a good performance – we did what we had to do, but it was very scrappy.”