Brian McDermott’s men are used to going for knockout blows in the play-offs and today will be no different. Peter Smith reports.
Reigning champions Leeds Rhinos will be taking a sudden-death approach into today’s Super League play-off at Warrington Wolves.
Finishing third in the league table, one place and four points behind Warrington, earned Rhinos a second chance if they lose this afternoon.
It is the first time in Brian McDermott’s three seasons as coach that Rhinos have not been playing knockout rugby in the post-season series, but he insisted they will still treat it as a must-win game.
Today’s victors will have a bye in round two and will then choose their opponents for a home semi-final tie the following weekend.
The losers are in action next Friday against the highest-ranked team from the sides finishing fifth to eighth in the table.
McDermott said: “People will say the absolute desperate situation we’ve had the last couple of years, in that if we lose we are gone, has brought the best out of us.
“But for us now we don’t want to be going into our next fixture on the back of a loss. We want to be going into a semi-final – to get through to the Grand Final – on the back of a win.
“We are as desperate to win this one as we were any previous ones.”
Leeds won 20-6 at Wigan Warriors nine days ago and have lost just one of seven games since their last trip to Warrington, in July.
But McDermott insisted: “I think we need to improve, absolutely. I think while last week’s performance against Wigan was a good, strong, solid performance I think we need to be better.
“I think there are parts of that game Warrington will get excited looking at, thinking they can exploit that.
“For us to go to Warrington and beat them in a play-off game we will have to be very, very good. We will have to up the ante against them compared to what we did last Thursday.”
Leeds’ ball control was much-improved last week, but McDermott insisted his players will be encouraged to “chance their arm” today.
“It was more controlled,” he said of last week’s display. “Every coach tries to provide his team with some opportunities to play – and the players do that themselves.
“The times you choose those opportunities to play is the quandary, the million dollar question. If you could hone the answer to that you’d never lose a game.
“But when you go to Warrington in the play-offs you are not going to score through planned plays.
“There may be one or two where when you might be able to get them on the back foot or you might have a quick play the ball, but tries scored are going to be something above and beyond what you see in the regular season.
“That’s what play-offs are all about – standards are higher. Their defence is going to be as mean as anything and it won’t give us too much. Therefore we are going to have to find a way of making breaks and scoring tries.
“Usually that is to do with promoting the ball, chancing your arm and finding a pass. We all know with that comes some errors.
“I am less concerned with the errors we make, it is the type of errors we have to make sure we control.
“We are going to play, you don’t go to Warrington and beat them on completion rates. Two reasons – one, it doesn’t work for us. And the other, I don’t want to be involved in a boring game. Tony Smith [Warrington’s coach] has similar philosophies.
“I think it has been a good season this year and I think the competition has been a good one in terms of spectacles and it would be great if we had a fantastic play-offs series.”
Today will be the third time that the two sides have met this year. Rhinos won 28-22 at Headingley in April, but were beaten 19-18 at HJ Stadium two months ago, when injuries forced McDermott to field a depleted team.
“There will be parts of those games we’ll be looking into,” McDermott said of preparations for today’s encounter.
“There are certain periods of both those games we’ve had a look at, but I think at this time of the year everybody’s game has developed, changed, progressed and altered.”
Club player of the year Jamie Peacock has been named in Rhinos’ initial 19-man squad for this afternoon, just eight days after the death of his father Darryl.
McDermott said: “Any son losing his dad is a big thing and he will deal with it the right way and at the same time he is an unbelievably professional man and his commitment to Leeds Rhinos can not be questioned.
“He would be up there with the best legends to have played for the club.
“He will do what he has to do in terms of his family, but anybody who knew Darryl will know he would be the first to say ‘get that shirt on son and go out and play’.
“I think JP is well aware of that.”