RUGBY LEAGUE’S new era means Leeds Rhinos start the 2015 season under added pressure, coach Brian McDermott says.
Rhinos will kick off their 20th Super League campaign in two days’ time, when they visit Hull KR and McDermott reckons they have “got to be good earlier” this year.
This season is the first under a controversial format which will see the 24 Super League and Championship clubs go into three new divisions of eight after 23 weekly rounds.
Super League’s leading sides will compete for the title in the Super-8s, but clubs finishing from ninth to 12th drop into the Qualifiers, against the Championship’s top-four.
The leading quartet will have four home games in the Super-8s, with the rest playing three on their own turf and four away.
Points in the Super-8s carry over from the regular season, which – according to the RFL – means this year every minute matters.
Rhinos have won the Super League Grand Final from fifth in the table twice under McDermott, but now only the top-four teams after the Super-8s stage will go into semi-finals for a place at Old Trafford.
“I think the effects of the new format will be big, in terms of the end of the year,” McDermott predicted.
“It means we play four fewer games (in the weekly rounds), which is not a dramatic amount, but in actual fact you have got to be good earlier in the season.
“After round 23 it breaks away to the top-eight and after seven further rounds it breaks away to the top-four.
“So by the end of 30 games we have got to be in the top-four. Everybody knows our history over the last four
years – we have finished in the top-four once.
“There’s a challenge to us and to all good teams, to get yourselves in the top-four.”
McDermott conceded there is now less margin for error in the regular season.
Rhinos have not won a Super League game since July and will travel to Hull KR on the back of five straight league and play-offs defeats.
“We have got to be good right from the off,” McDermott said.
“I don’t think anybody consciously says ‘let’s write off the first 10 rounds, it doesn’t really matter’.
“But I think (under the old system) you had a bit of breathing space.
“You don’t have that any more, which I think will bring a really good focus into the season.
“More games will be more intense, on a more regular occasion than we’ve seen in the past.
“And not just among the top teams – what a fascinating end to the season it will be for the bottom-four, the ones that don’t make the cut after round 23.
“Everybody’s attentions will be not only on the top end of the ladder, but also on what the bottom-four look like against the top-four teams from the Championship.
“I think that’s going to be really interesting.”
Rovers are expecting a full house at Sunday’s game, beating the record crowd of 11,526 which watched the same fixture last year.
The home team’s backroom staff includes former Rhinos favourite Willie Poching, who has joined them as assistant-coach after leaving a similar role at Warrington Wolves.