UPBEAT boss Brian McDermott insists Leeds Rhinos’ performances are heading in the right direction as they enter the business end of the season.
Rhinos have won only four of their last nine First Utility Super League fixtures, but could still return to the top of the table if they win at Salford Red Devils tonight and St Helens are beaten at home by Widnes Vikings.
Leeds have yet to recapture the form they showed in the first half of the season, which included a seven-game winning run in April and early May, but McDermott reckons they are “definitely” taking steps forward after their mid-season blip.
“The vast majority of the first half last week was good,” he said of the 24-24 draw with title rivals Castleford Tigers eight days ago.
“We conceded two soft tries that we were unhappy with and the first, where Tommy Briscoe got out-jumped, sometimes they are really harsh.
“In the final 10 minutes we seemed to switch off. We took JP (Jamie Peacock) off and Kylie (Leuluai) was off the field.
“They have been our best props this year and that hurt us, but we saw a great reaction in the second half and I thought for the whole of it we were outstanding, probably the best we’ve been this year.
“You start to think about why didn’t we score more tries and make more breaks? That was because Castleford were good.
“During the game we knew this and in review we were trying to look at where Castleford were switching off and where they weren’t working for each other and there weren’t too many occasions when we could see that.
“They were on for that game, but in terms of positives we have been building for a couple of weeks now.
“We know we have got a big task at Salford, but I feel we are ready to keep on improving and getting better.”
Rhinos did not concede more than 14 points in any of their opening 14 league and cup games this year.
They have let in fewer than 14 in only three of their last 10, but McDermott stressed he isn’t hugely concerned: “We have been conceding more, but we haven’t been letting in 40s or 50s,” he said.
“It is not ideal, you have some goals in pre-season and you want to keep it below 20 per game average – less than that if possible.
“We are still in that average, it’s just we set a ridiculously high standard, something like eight or nine points per game up until round 14.
“I am sure we will get some of that back and I think we are already starting to show signs of that.
“In the Wakefield game, the Hull KR game and against Castleford we were looking in good nick and that’s something we can keep building on.”
Tonight’s hosts are 10th in the table, three points outside the play-off zone.
Salford – coached by former Leeds captain Iestyn Harris –have won their last three matches after dropping as low as 12th on the ladder last month.
McDermott said: “I think it was always going to take time for Iestyn to implement some of his stuff and see a reaction.
“He’d argue they’ve had some disappointing results this year and there comes a point in time when the players say ‘enough’s enough, we’re going to start playing well and string a few performances together’.
“They are starting to do that and they have got a huge amount of incentive (tonight). They have been playing with a huge amount of energy, emotion and aggression in recent weeks and months and I am sure they’ll continue with that.”