THE YEP jury has its say ahead of Leeds Rhinos v Catalan Dragons.
Leeds got back to winning ways at Widnes with a performance which was very much a mixed bag.
A win and two points is what matters and we are hopefully digging our way out of this mini slump.
Many fans have been disappointed with our recent form but looking at our Super League history and that of all the other top teams it should come as no surprise.
All the teams challenging for honours will go through a dip in form, it is almost inevitable that at some point during the season standards will drop off, the key is peaking at the right times and building momentum.
History will also tell you Leeds have a knack of getting it right and this season at the moment looks to be taking a familiar pattern.
A couple of noticeable differences for Leeds this season compared to the last two is defensively we have remained fairly robust and our start to the season was much better which has allowed us to remain near the top of the league.
It is clear Leeds are building the season in stages. Get a good start, tick. Get through the early rounds of the Challenge Cup, tick. Take stock and look at the semi-final and start to build momentum again. Hopefully this is what will happen over the next few weeks so we are ready for Warrington.
No team ever wants to drop their standards or lose matches but there are points in a season when it is better to have a loss of form, lose players to injury and rest players.
Touch wood Leeds are timing their run again. Jason Davidson and the backroom support leave no stone unturned to make sure the boys are peaking at the right times.
The injury list is starting to shorten and the luxury of being able to rest players will add to the momentum we are trying to build now. The hooking role has certainly been a problem area and it was great to see Paul Aiton back.
I must say credit must go to young Robbie Ward and Chris Clarkson who have deputised fantastically well. Robbie’s confidence has grown the more he has played and he could well be a future star.
Our next challenge will certainly be a physical one when the Dragons arrive this week. They pack a real punch in the forwards and maybe Brian McDermott had this game in mind when he rested Peacock and Leuluai.
A rare Sunday game at Headingley should hopefully bring out a big crowd and I expect a really good game.
Hopefully we can move the ball better and get our much admired back line into the game. It’s time to start building momentum.
The visit to Widnes last Sunday was a little disappointing despite the two points gained.
The weather was good, there was a great away following and Leeds had Danny McGuire, Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Carl Ablett and Paul Aiton back in the team. Widnes had conceded over 100 points in their last two games and were missing Jon Clarke and Kevin Brown.
I think a lot of Leeds supporters expected the Rhinos to dominate the game and score a fair few points. For the first 15 minutes this looked to be the case but then things changed and at times Leeds were struggling to keep on top of Widnes.
It was good to see some senior players back but JJB and Paul Aiton will take a few games to get back to match fitness and be playing at the level they were before they were injured.
Ben Jones-Bishop is a very competent full-back but he is not in the same league as Zak Hardaker. Zak has the X factor and the Rhinos are missing him big time. Leeds look a different, more exciting side when he is playing.
Catalan Dragons are the visitors to Headingley on Sunday in the lead up to the Tour de France arriving in Yorkshire. They are a big powerful side and will take some stopping. A better performance will be needed to take the two points and stay in contention near the top of the table.
After the mystery injury that’s plagued hooker Paul Aiton for the last three months he was back in the team last Sunday.
Odd how he was able to train for all the three months he was out injured. When will we be told what’s going on? 100 games up for BJB in the win on Sunday too. Well done Ben.
Paul Aiton made a welcome return to a Rhinos side that has lost its way in recent weeks.
The Rhinos also had Danny McGuire, Carl Ablett and Jamie Jones-Buchanan back, but for me the best thing was the players who were not selected for last Sunday’s game – Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai.
They have been in fine form this season, but in the latter stages of their careers they can’t be expected to play at such a consistently high level week in and week out. This week’s game against the in-form Catalan Dragons will be a very physical game, but one in which Leeds – having most of their premier players back in the fold – should have enough to overcome the French visitors.
It was good to get back to winning ways versus Widnes Vikings, but it wasn’t the best performance. Our defence needs to sharpen up quite a lot. It was good to see JJB, McGuire, Ablett and Aiton back in the squad. I’m very impressed with Josh Walters, he’s performing very well and is staking a claim for a regular spot in the first team.
Sunday afternoon at Widnes I found myself thinking, this is where the season begins again.
I’ve long dreamt of Brian McDermott’s talented team finishing top of Super League and making a Grand Final from first. For me it’ll be McDermott’s redemption for three years of regular season mediocrity and inconsistency, and, do you know what?, at the start of the season I started to believe.
My belief was shaken in recent weeks, poor performances against Wigan, Warrington and Huddersfield saw to that, but I’ve maintained that when Aiton and Burrow return we’ll be a different team and so it proved. Aiton was excellent pulling the strings and I’m starting to believe again.