LEEDS RHINOS have bounced back from defeats reasonably well this season.
With 24 competitive games played – 21 First Utility Super League rounds and three ties in the Tetley’s Challenge Cup – they have yet to suffer back-to-back losses.
The ability to respond positively to a defeat is a key ingredient in a successful season and England second-rower Carl Ablett says they will be taking that sort of approach this week – despite picking up a point last time out.
Rhinos led Castleford Tigers 24-18 going into the final stages of last Thursday’s West Yorkshire derby, but yet again – for the fifth time this season – late drama went against them, and they had to settle for a point as the visitors grabbed an equalising converted try.
The victory lifted Rhinos briefly into top spot on the table, but Ablett admitted as far as the players were concerned, their reaction afterwards was the same as if they had suffered a defeat.
Ablett – who crossed twice and was Rhinos’ official man of the match – said: “The tries don’t mean much now. It definitely felt like we lost a point.
“We lacked a little bit of composure and we just weren’t good enough to get the two points. There was a real feeling of disappointment in the changing rooms.”
Rhinos remain in the hunt for the league leaders’ shield with just six league rounds remaining, but Ablett insisted: “I don’t think we’ve ever looked at the table and said this is where we are, this is where we could be.
“It is just about performance and looking for improvements. To concede 24 points is probably not good enough and there were some soft tries as well.
“We will get back to the training ground and get ready for a tough game on Friday.”
Last Thursday’s fixture has been described as one of the matches of the season.
Tigers led 6-0 inside the opening two minutes, but Rhinos were ahead three times only for the visitors to hit back and level on each occasion.
“It was two good teams and there was a good intensity to the game,” Ablett said.
“It definitely felt like a play-off game. It was definitely a good arm-wrestle, but in the end we just lacked a bit of composure.
“We couldn’t get in place for a drop goal and we were pushing the final passes. We just didn’t need that.
“Maybe at the end of the year we’ll look back and say it was as good one to learn from and it will set us up for a good run-in to the (Challenge Cup) semi-final and the play-offs.”
Rhinos have just two more matches – at Salford Red Devils on Friday and home to Bradford Bulls seven days later – before their Cup showdown with Warrington Wolves on Saturday, August 9.
Ablett said games like the clash with Tigers are ideal at this stage of the campaign.
“We have got some big games coming up,” he said. “We’ve got the semi-finals coming up and we’re getting ready for the play-offs then.
“We can learn from those games (like last week’s) and they will stand us in good stead for the games coming up.”
Ablett accepts Leeds need to improve going into the business end of the year.
After starting the season in red hot form and losing just one of their opening 14 matches, Rhinos have been beaten in four of their last 10, plus the draw against Castleford.
“We have had a few people coming back who haven’t played for a while,” Ablett said. “It will take them a few weeks to get ready.
“We will just try to keep improving each week and come the semi-final we will start to crank it up and we’ll be firing for the big games.”
Zak Hardaker returned against Tigers after completing a five-match suspension and Kylie Leuluai and Jamie Jones-Buchanan were also in action following long-term calf injuries.
Rob Burrow played his second game after three months on the sidelines due to a broken collarbone and Ablett said having key men back is a “massive” boost.
He said: “You really miss them, you don’t realise until they are not there. There are some people you depend on all the time and when they are not there you definitely feel you are lacking a bit of presence.
“It is definitely good to get them back, but you can’t expect too much, too soon. It was the first game in a long while for some of them, but after a couple more games we should hopefully see them firing.”
The return of some of Rhinos’ most experienced players meant teenagers Liam Sutcliffe, Josh Walters and Rob Mulhearn all dropped out of last week’s team.
Walters – a second-row or loose-forward – had played in Rhinos’ previous six games and Ablett feels the former Leeds Carnegie rugby union player is emerging as a bright prospect, just a year after switching codes.
“It has been a bit of a rise for him,” he said. “He is a bit raw, which you’d expect. He hasn’t been playing long, but he’s got something there and he’s willing to work hard, that’s the big thing.
“If he’s willing to come in and do the little stuff he gets respect straight away from all his teammates and I am sure he will get better the more he plays.
“With young lads sometimes it doesn’t do them any harm to have a bit of a rest and go and play in the under-19s.
“I am sure they will have learned a lot from it and if they ever need to be called on again I am sure they will do a good job again.”
Ablett has been one of Rhinos’ most consistent players this term and of his own form, he said: “I am getting there. It is probably fair to say for a few of us that we need to start building now and putting better performances in.
“I am pretty pleased, but I know there’s a bit more to come, so hopefully we’ll see that over the next few weeks.”
Ablett is expecting another tough and tight game when Leeds visit Salford in four days’ time.
“They have got a good squad,” he observed. “It will be an interesting one. We will have a big week leading up to it, we’ve got a full week’s turn-around and we’ll look forward to going there.”
Meanwhile, boss Brian McDermott will be working on his team’s composure under pressure this week.
Rhinos had a late chance to win last Thursday’s game when they set up for a drop goal, but the ball went to prop Jamie Peacock, whose kick was off-target.
McDermott described that as “silly” and “crazy” and he said: “We will be looking at that area I am sure – I don’t think JP will be our go-to man again.”
He added: “We are heading into the area of the season now when you have got to be good for the duration of the game.
“You have got to nail parts of the game.
“We are getting there. We have had some shaky moments, but the last two or three weeks we have started to look something like.”