FORWARD JOSH Walters insists he is learning valuable lessons, despite Leeds Rhinos’ disastrous run.
Walters scored the try which levelled the scores in last October’s Grand Final, setting up Kevin Sinfield’s match and treble-winning conversion.
Rhinos have played 17 competitive fixtures since then and won only three of them, the most recent being against Hull – now top of the table – on April 15.
The current run of five league and cup defeats matches Leeds’ poorest spell of the summer era. They also lost five straight games in 1996 and 10 years later, but defeat at Warrington Wolves tonight would be a new low, as well as equalling their poorest Super League sequence. In 2000 they lost their opening five league games, but that run was broken by two wins in the Challenge Cup.
Already two points adrift at the foot of the table, Leeds are six points behind eighth-placed Widnes Vikings, who have a better points difference, with only eight rounds remaining in the regular season.
Hull secured the final place in last year’s Super-8s with 20 points, so Rhinos can afford only one more defeat if they are to match that total.
It is a grim situation for the defending champions, but one of the positives this year has been the experience gained by young players including Walters, Ashton Golding, Ash Handley, Jordan Lilley and academy prospects Cameron Smith and Sam Hallas, who have both made their Super League debuts.
They are having to learn the hard way, but Walters, who made his rugby league debut two years ago after switching codes from Yorkshire Carnegie, reckons all the youngsters are benefiting every time they take to the field.
“It is tough,” admitted the 21-year-old, who has made 11 appearances this season.
“But I am enjoying playing my rugby.
“Obviously it would be nice to be winning, but you learn a lot of things and, to be honest, I think I have learned more this year than I did last year.
“I have played more games than I did last year as well.
“It would be nice to be in a winning team, but we know what we have got to do.
“We have got to keep working hard away from the pitch and eventually results will show on it.”
Walters feels the likes of Golding, Handley and Lilley have “done brilliantly” this year, despite Rhinos’ results.
“It’s not the best of circumstances,” he said.
“They have been chucked in at the deep end. There has been so much expected of us this year and it has been tough for them to come in.
“All three of them have been in pivotal positions; Ash Handley is there to score tries and stop tries, Ash Golding is there to stop tries and Jordan has got to direct the team.
“I think Jordan and Sutty [Liam Sutcliffe], when they have been there, have done an outstanding job, and they haven’t got the credit that’s been due.”
Rhinos’ poor form has sparked rumours of dressing room discontent, but Walters insisted team spirit is as strong as it has ever been.
“We have still got world-class players,” he said.
“Nothing much has really changed. We lost a few big names at the end of last season, but that’s all in the past now.
“We have put that behind us and the team spirit is there.
“We know we are still a good team and we know what we can do.
“We just need to put in an 80-minute performance and start winning.”
Rhinos have scored the opening try in their last three games, including the 40-8 Magic Weekend defeat by Wigan Warriors six days ago, before going on to lose the game.
“We have to be consistent,” Walters stressed.
“We had a lot better first half against Wigan, but a couple of mistakes let in tries for them.
“It was close at half-time, but then I think a few heads went down, or whatever. I don’t know, you can’t explain sometimes, it just happens.
“We are starting well, which shows we are wanting it, but it is just a matter of getting an 80-minute performance.”
Warrington have lost their last two games, but will regain top spot if they win tonight.
“In Super League now there’s no easy games,” Walters said. “We have been doing what we have to do on the training pitch, we’ve reviewed what Warrington do and put a game plan together and we will go there and do our best to try and get a result.
“We want to get as high up the table as we can. I’m not sure what’s mathematically possible, but we know we’re not dead and buried.
“But first and foremost is getting a win, getting two points and then going again.
“We have got to take each game as it comes.
“With the amount of injuries we’ve got, sometimes we aren’t getting told the team until the day of the game, so it is tough.
“But each game as it comes is all we are looking at at the moment.
“We could still make a lot out of this season, we just need to get an 80-minute performance first off, start building on that and then start to climb the table.
“Everybody’s been working really hard. At the moment it’s not quite there, but it will get there.”