THE TOUGH matches just keep on coming, but that is no shock to Leeds Rhinos’ England forward Carl Ablett.
Rhinos visit last year’s beaten Grand Finalists Warrington Wolves tonight and Ablett sees it as just another challenge for the First Utility Super League leaders, in a season packed with them.
“We have hard games everywhere,” Ablett stressed. “If we go to Wakefield, or Cas, or Bradford, or Hull – wherever we go or if teams come to play us it always seems to be a big game.
“Teams want to knock you off when you are top of the table, but I don’t think we have ever looked at that or said we are happy with where we are.
“We just look at performances, how we are performing or where we can improve and be better.
“We had a good reaction last week against Hull after a defeat the week before, but we want to improve on what we did against Hull and see where that takes us.”
Rhinos are a point clear at the summit with 13 rounds still to play.
St Helens and Castleford have both scored more points and Wigan are only five behind with a game in hand, but Rhinos’ defence remains comfortably the best in the division.
Leeds have conceded only 132 points, at an average of 9.42 per game; the most any team has scored against them was 18 by Wigan at the Magic Weekend and they have not had their line breached more than three times in any competitive match so far.
“I think we are happy with our performances, especially defensively,” Ablett said. “To concede so few points is a very pleasing factor in the first half of the season.
“If we can defend like that in the second half then we will be in a strong position towards the end.”
But Ablett admitted good form over the opening half of the campaign does not guarantee results in the back 13.
He said: “Who knows what’s going to happen? We have got to play everybody again and teams will be starting to get their systems bedded in now.
“That first half of the year is all about testing things out, but most teams will be hitting their peak in the second half, so we will look forward to that.
“I think the competition starts to settle down in the second half of the season and you start to see who is going well and who the form players are.
“In the first half of the year people are still trying to find their feet or players are still bedding in.
“Injuries can have a bearing as well, some teams seem to pick up a lot of injuries in the first half and then players come back towards the end of the year.
“It is going to be a really exciting finish and we are looking forward to it.”
Warrington are a team looking to hit their stride for the business end,after an indifferent opening to the campaign.
Ablett said: “They took a while to get going, but you can see they are playing well now.
“They have won three in a row and they put quite a few points on a good St Helens team at the Magic Weekend.
“With us going to their place, I am sure they will want to lay down a marker. They are going to be there or thereabouts at the end of the year.
“I think everybody’s been written off this year and each week whoever’s top of the table is the one that’s going to finish there or win the Grand Final.
“Each week there seems to be different favourites. They have had a few blips this year, but you can never write them off or think Warrington have gone.
“They have still got some quality players and it was just a matter of time before it started coming together for them.
“It is always a tough place to go and get a result and we are expecting it to be just the same this week.”
On a personal note Ablett will be looking to extend his ever-present record tonight, despite a knock picked up in last week’s match. He said: “I haven’t missed a game so I am happy with that, but I know there’s more to come and hopefully we will see that as the season progresses and the big games come around.”
Ablett is also targeting retaining his place in the England squad for this autumn’s Four Nations after suffering the frustration of having to watch the World Cup semi-final loss to New Zealand last year as an unused substitute.
“I’d love to [keep his place] but any player will tell you you can’t afford to think too much about things like that,” he said.
“I have just got to play well. Back-row is a strong position for England, so I will just keep trying to play as well as I can.
“I am still learning.
He added: “The team has evolved a bit and I have taken on a bit of a different role tactically, so I am concentrating on my own game, hopefully I can have a good finish and we will see where we sit at the end of the season.”