After a recent slump in form Leeds Rhinos need to return to winning ways when they visit Widnes on Sunday. Peter Smith reports.
LEEDS RHINOS need to start building momentum as they approach the business end of the season, returning forward Carl Ablett admits.
Rhinos have lost three of their last four First Utility Super League fixtures ahead of tomorrow’s trip to Widnes Vikings.
Ablett is poised to return this weekend after serving a two-match ban for kicking opponent Joel Monaghan in Leeds’ 24-6 reverse at Warrington Wolves.
And he will come into a team looking to build on an encouraging performance in defeat against Huddersfield Giants last time out, nine days ago.
“The Huddersfield game last week was a step in the right direction,” Ablett said of the two-point loss. “We played all right, we just lacked a bit of execution.
“We are trying to build some momentum for the big few games coming up and every team has gone through a poor patch. We have been missing a few people and it is tough when you are missing your full-back, a half-back, both hookers and two back-rowers.
“It is quite challenging, but we have been getting through it the best we can and hopefully over the next few weeks we’ll start to get some people back and we should start to see some improvement.”
Widnes will be playing their third game in 10 days following the 56-6 home loss to Hull eight days ago and Wednesday’s 48-4 drubbing at Wigan Warriors.
“They have been playing well this year,” Ablett said. “It is tough for them having to back up, but they have known about it for a while so they will be prepared.”
Ablett was in good form before his suspension, but had no argument with the punishment handed out.
“If you watch it you can tell it’s not deliberate,” he said of the kicking incident. “I am not trying to kick him in the face, I was just trying to stop the ball from being put down.
“I think you can tell from my reaction that it wasn’t what I meant to do. I caught him in the face and that was unfortunate, but I had to accept the ban. You can’t connect with people in the face.
“It is unfortunate, but it was good that he was able to play the next week and there was no lasting damage.
“I have served my time and I am looking forward to getting back playing this week.”
Ablett spent the first part of this week in Loughborough on England’s mid-season training camp, their first get-together since last year’s World Cup.
“It was good to get back together with all the lads again, plus some new faces as well,” Ablett said. “Camps like this week’s are massive, really important.
“I’ve been involved for the last few years and to get together and get rid of the discomfort you have when you first mix with players from other teams is big.
“It might not seem important and people on the outside might say what are things like that for? But as players it is great to be able to get together and get to know each other, speak about things and set goals. It is all worthwhile and I am sure this week will be beneficial when we come around to actually playing games.”
There is no mid-season England fixture this year, which make the camp even more essential, according to Ablett.
“It’s disappointing that we can’t get together and play, but that is out of our control,” he said.
“It is good to spend time together and speak about how we are going to play and go over some calls and just refresh our minds.
“It is good just to get comfortable with each other and get to know some of these new faces.
“Joe Burgess has come through the academy and the Knights and into the first team, so it shows the programme is working and it’s a great pathway for young players.”
Ablett admitted this week’s camp revived memories of England’s last-gasp World Cup semi-final loss to New Zealand at Wembley.
He said: “It has brought it all back, but it is important you don’t forget that.
“The feeling that left you with drives you on and makes you want to improve and do better.
It will be good to get another shot against Australia and New Zealand over there in their back yard for the Four Nations this year.
“It will certainly be a good test for us.
“Camps like this week are to familiarise everybody for that and when he (coach Steve McNamara) does pick a squad of 20-odd everybody will know each other and what we are all about.”
Leeds Rhinos: (from): Jones-Bishop, Watkins, Moon, Hall, McGuire, K Leuluai, Aiton, Peacock, Jones-Buchanan, Ablett, Sinfield, Delaney, Bailey, Kirke, T Briscoe, Sutcliffe, Singleton, Walters, R Ward.
Widnes Vikings: (from): Ah Van, Allen, Carberry, Craven, Dean, Gerrard, Gilmore, Gore, Flynn, Hanbury, Isa, Johnson, Joseph, Kavanagh, Lawton, M Leuluai, Marsh, Mellor, White.
Referee: Ben Thaler (Wakefield).
Kick-off: Sunday, 3pm.