BRIAN McDERMOTT admits Leeds Rhinos’ 28-6 defeat at Wigan Warriors in March was the moment he could no longer “ignore” his champions were on the slide.
The sides meet again at Headingley tonight with 2015 treble-winners Leeds now bottom of Super League, consigned to a relegation battle, and their old rivals challenging for the whole trio of trophies, instead.
There is a belief in the Rhinos camp, though, that they can end Wigan’s current eight-match unbeaten run given McDermott’s side have won three of their last four matches including last Friday’s impressive victory at leaders Hull FC.
However, he knows how tough Shaun Wane’s team, who they beat in last year’s Grand Final, will be.
Asked if they owed Wigan one – they were also vanquished by them 40-8 at Magic Weekend – McDermott replied: “Yeah, along with a few other teams.
“Especially over there we were awful. They were great; they played with such tempo and pace around the ruck, we couldn’t handle it.
“It was probably that Wigan game where I thought it’s pointless being brave and pointless ignoring some of the issues we had.
“That was the first time I felt ‘how far off are we?’
“It was the game where I felt there was something not right having spent so long thinking other issues affected us.”
For all Leeds are left facing the Qualifiers, McDermott knows they are capable of finishing their regular season on a high against Wigan and then at Hull KR.
“We’ve got over Wigan in some big games and then they’ve smacked us and put us on our backside in others so it will be interesting,” he said.
“We’re keen for this one. We’re ready for this one.
“Wigan are up near the top but it will be a good one for our boys and their confidence if we could do it.
“We’re still evolving really, and the progressions we continue to make since the Catalans game have sometimes been just small but equally there’s been some big efforts, too.
“If we can get over top of Wigan it will give the team a real boost and a confirmation of what we’re doing in training and how we’re operating.
“But we need to be solid, play well and defend well.”
McDermott praised Wane for the manner in which his side - depleted by injuries and suspension - have maintained their bid for the top.
Five of their last six league wins have been by seven points or fewer including the last-second 22-18 win over Wakefield Trinity last week when they were also down to 12 men.
“They are a very tenacious, tough team,” said McDermott, who confirmed England winger Tom Briscoe will make his return from injury for his first game since mid-April.
“They’ve got through some scratchy games and I think just recently gone through a period where Shaun Wane won’t be overly pleased with how they’re playing but will be pleased that they are winning and getting some teams right at the death.
“You can call them lucky, fortunate, whatever want but they have some toughness and resilience about them.
“They have had that since Shaun Wane took over. Give them credit; we always find them a tough team to play.”
McDermott added Brett Ferres won’t play but was “very close” to selection after injury and captain Danny McGuire may return at Hull KR while long-term casualty Steve Ward trained with the team on Wednesday but could be another four weeks before he plays.
Meanwhile, Rhinos under-19s are away to Hull on Saturday (noon).