CHIEF executive Gary Hetherington has admitted the pressure is on under-performing Leeds Rhinos.
Five defeats from their last seven matches have seen the 2007/8/9 champions slump to eighth in Engage Super League, with just six games left.
Rhinos’ latest setback was a 38-18 drubbing at Catalan Dragons four days ago and Hetherington reckons tomorrow’s visit of seventh-placed Hull is now a crucial encounter.
“Our Super League record so far is simply not good enough,” Hetherington conceded.
“It represents a big under-achievement by the team, who are – by and large – the same ones who won the Grand Final two years ago.
“We were in a similar position last year at this stage and we struck some form to win through to Wembley and a top-four spot.
“We need to do the same again. We are more than capable, but the pressure is now on everyone. Friday night at Headingley will be a big test for the players to turn things around.”
Discontent is growing among Rhinos supporters, but Hetherington added: “The team needs the support of the fans more than ever before.
“They have a big part to play too. What I do know is there is no shortage of hard work and commitment by the coaching staff and players.
“They all care passionately about the club and each other. It is hurting.
“They have all got character and a track record of success, but the past is history. Friday night has to be the start of a big change in form.”
Lack of consistency is a major issue for Rhinos, according to the chief executive.
“In the last five weeks we have had two outstanding performances, against Hull KR and Wigan,” he said. “And we’ve had three disappointing ones, against Bradford, Catalan and even Crusaders, though that was a hard-fought win in difficult conditions.
“That level of inconsistency is something we have got to address – but on the other hand, the players’ commitment can’t be questioned.
“I think in a way they are trying too hard and that is leading to frustration and anxiety.”
This season’s Super League signing deadline passed last Friday, so Rhinos – who have released Ben Cross, Luke Burgess and Keith Senior in recent weeks – will be unable to strengthen their squad for the rest of the campaign.
Asked if the current personnel can turn things around, Hetherington said: “I would like to think so.
“Between now and the end of the season we have got to use the players we have got. They are the first ones to say it is down to them.
“They are not looking at apportioning blame. The coach becomes an easy target, but the players – to a man – are the first to say that it is all down to them. They aren’t looking for excuses. Talking to the senior personnel, that’s the first thing they all say.
“We have got character and ability, but confidence is low at the moment and we are suffering from a bit of anxiety and frustration.
“But I do feel at any time we are capable of clicking into gear. Hull were in a similar situation at the start of the year, but they clicked into gear and they are now a real threat.”
Prop Kylie Leuluai has been ruled out of tomorrow’s clash with Hull FC due to the eye injury suffered in the final minutes of last Sunday’s loss to Catalan in Perpignan.
Rhinos welcome back Rob Burrow after a one-game suspension and young winger Zak Hardaker could be back in contention after missing the trip to France with an ankle injury picked up in the narrow defeat at Wigan.