TREBLE-CHASING Leeds Rhinos are already into semi-final mode, skipper Kevin Sinfield has said ahead of tonight’s crucial game at Catalans Dragons.
Rhinos began the fifth round of First Utility Super-8s matches with just a two-point lead over second-placed Wigan Warriors.
Last week’s defeat by St Helens blew the race for the league leaders’ shield wide open and Sinfield reckons every game from now on is a must-win.
“We’ve got to bounce back,” Sinfield stressed. “It’s a big game, a tough game and a tough place for us to go.
“But it’s one we are looking forward to. With three league games left to play it’s important we get a result, with what’s at stake.
“It has been well-documented we would love to win the league leaders’, shield, so it’s important we get this one.
“With so much at stake, it is like a semi-final for us. We need to play well and be better than we were last week against St Helens and I am sure we will be.”
Rhinos fell flat last week, just six days after their Ladbrokes Challenge Cup final triumph, but Sinfield is confident the hangover is now out of their system.
“It’s tough,” he said. “We have been to the final and lost on a few occasions and I think the effect losing has on your season is very different to winning.
“Teams that have lost in Challenge Cup finals often go on and win the Grand Final, while teams that win it have struggled.
“We have learned from last year (when Rhinos failed to win a game after their Cup triumph).
“We are in a completely different place, we have got a few bodies missing, but the squad is capable of going to France and getting a result.
“We just need to play well, last week we didn’t give ourselves enough of a chance. Saints played very well and were pretty clinical with the opportunities they got and we need to be better this week.”
Sinfield believes Wigan will go through the rest of their Super-8s matches unbeaten, which adds more pressure on Leeds.
“We need to get two out of three, if not three out of three,” he conceded. “That’s why this week becomes a semi-final.
“That’s not trying to put any pressure on the game or on us in particular, but we have to play well.
“That’s something we’ve done for the majority of the season, in the majority of games.
“We just want the sort of performance we’ve been able to deliver for probably 90 per cent of the season.”
Catalans are out of the hunt for a semi-final place, but have lost just twice at home this year, including a 38-22 reverse by Rhinos in March.
“We may find they have got a bit of a carefree attitude towards the game and that makes them dangerous,” Sinfield predicted.
“We know Catalans like to throw the ball about and they will ask some questions.
“We are aware we are going into a bit of a cauldron there and a place where not many teams have got a result, but we are looking forward to the challenge.”