long-serving FORWARD Ian Kirke believes Leeds Rhinos may have turned a corner with their spirited performance agianst Huddersfield Giants.
Last week’s defeat was their third in four First Utility Super League games, but came after an improved performance.
“I had a couple of flat weeks before Thursday,” Kirke admitted. “I was pretty steady against Warrington for one reason or another, but luckily Mac (coach Brian McDermott) gave me a chance again against Leigh.
“I probably tried too hard in that game and ended up making some errors I probably wouldn’t make. But he stuck with me again last week and I think I played a bit better – we all did. I know we got beaten, but I think performance-wise, we were pretty good.
“There were a couple of lapses when they got tries, but it was one of those things – we nearly pinched it at the end and I think we were a bit unlucky overall.”
Rhinos are still in a decent position, despite their mid-season slump – and Kirke said there were more positives than negatives to come out of the Huddersfield game, which was their fourth defeat of the year.
“Mentally maybe it will be a turning point,” he predicted. “I hate losing – obviously everyone who plays the sport hates losing – but at least we could lose that with a bit of pride. The Warrington game, we didn’t turn up – myself particularly.
“You put your hand up and say ‘bad day at the races, bad day at the office’. Other people have jobs where a bad day doesn’t go as noticed, but for us you are put on the spot a bit – and quite rightly so.
“But to lose and play better, you can go away with your head held a little bit higher. Still, we need to win the games.
“We want to finish near the top of the table and ideally first, because that was the goal at the beginning of the season.
“We have just got to keep picking up the wins and hopefully we can start grabbing a few now. To a degree we came off on Thursday with our heads up.
“It certainly wasn’t as depressing as the Warrington game or even the week before. I wouldn’t say we were shocked by Leigh, we knew they were going to have a go and the way they throw the ball around, it is unorthodox and hard to defend against.
“Be we were disappointed with the performance against Leigh and last week was a bit more like back to normal.”
The game against Huddersfield was decided by video referees Steve Ganson and Phil Bentham, who ruled Leeds winger Tom Briscoe had shoved defender Danny Brough as they both chased a kick after the final hooter.
Briscoe claimed the touchdown, which would have won the game for Leeds and there was an agonizing wait before the decision was “no try”.
Several 50-50 decisions went against the hosts, but it was the third quarter of the game, when Giants went from 12-6 down to 24-12 ahead, which contributed most to the end of Leeds’ unbeaten home record this year.
Kirke said: “That’s what cost us. They are a good team and they were good tries. A couple of them were breakaway-ish tries and you can sort of take that on the chin.
“If you are broken down defensively you have got things to work on, but in terms of the tries they came from a little bit of a lapse and then we were chasing our tails a little bit.
“We will try and sort it out this week and the last 20 minutes will give us a bit of confidence. They are a good side and it is good to know we can still cause them problems. I think we are always going to cause teams problems. If we can keep the ball and play out our sets, we should be all right.”
The fixture list isn’t getting any easier for Rhinos, who visit Widnes Vikings on Sunday. Widnes have been – along with Castleford Tigers – one of the surprise success stories this term and Kirke reckons that is good for the competition as a whole.
“I am not a big fan of their rubber pitch,” he admitted. “But we’ve got to play on it and they have to play on it every other week, so it is just one of those things.
“They are playing well, they are a good team. I know every year people say ‘there’s no easy games’, but there isn’t any more. Wherever you go you are going to get a competitive performance out of people. It’s a good thing for the league and rugby league in general, though I think we’d like an easy game now – that would be ideal!
“But you want to be involved in good, tight games.
“I wouldn’t say one-sided games are no fun, but you don’t get the same kind of satisfaction as getting a win against a good side, so it’s good that the whole league is competitive these days.”
England forward Jamie Jones-Buchanan has an outside chance of being available for the Widnes game.
And half-back Danny McGuire could also be in contention, along with second-row/centre Carl Ablett after his two-match ban.
“It will be good to get some players back, but I’ve been impressed with the players who have stepped in,” Kirke said.
“I thought Luke Briscoe played really well on Thursday.
“He had never played hooker in his life, but he has got massive spirit.
“Josh Walters has been good as well, he put in some good hits – some monster tackles.
“He is fit and young and he has got a lot of enthusiasm – and he backs it up with skill and talent, so the future is looking pretty bright for us.”
In contrast, the defeat by Huddersfield was Kirke’s 300th senior game and 208th for Leeds.
His tally also includes 18 for Hull KR (2000), eight with York Wasps (2002), 45 for Dewsbury Rams (2002-2004) and 21 with York City Knights (2005).
“I didn’t know,” he admitted of his latest milestone, which came just weeks after his double century for Leeds Rhinos.
“I know they haven’t all been Super League, but I am still pretty proud of the ones I played for other teams.
“I had a good time – with York we won the league – so I had some decent years before I came here.
“Obviously things then got better for me, apart from the last couple of years when we haven’t won anything.
“But still, to be playing in Super League, for Leeds, is a massive deal for me. It has been really good.”
With fewer players coming over from Australia, Super League clubs may have to look more to the Kingstone Press Championship – and even Championship One – for players with the potential to make it in the full-time game.
Recently the likes of Leeds’ Zak Hardaker, Liam Finn at Castleford Tigers and St Helens’ Alex Walmsley have made the step up.
But Kirke was a trail-blazer, along with one of his opponents in last Thursday’s game.
“Me and Broughy (Danny Brough) were among the first two,” he recalled.
“I played with him at Dewsbury and then he went to York and Hull.
“I wouldn’t say we started it all, but we were some of the first.”
Meanwhile, Leeds Rhinos under-16s swept to a 46-6 win over Huddersfield Giants.
Judah Mazive, Ryan Jones and Cameron Smith all bagged a brace of tries and Josh Jordan Roberts landed seven goals.
Other try scorers were Harry Boyes and Dyson Nicholson.