Leeds Carnegie will approach their derby with Rotherham Titans as “just another game” according to hat-trick hero forward Chris Walker.
The openside crossed for an unlikely treble of tries in Sunday’s 40-14 destruction of Plymouth Albion.
The win cemented Leeds’ spot in the Championship play-offs and meant they also nudged Rotherham from third by virtue of a marginally superior points difference.
That could all change again when they meet each other at Sheffield’s Abbeydale Stadium tomorrow but, with just one more league fixture at home to Cornish Pirates then remaining, Walker maintains there is no added incentive to necessarily finish above their rivals.
“For us it’s down to momentum now,” the 22-year-old said.
“We obviously want to win every game and the more we can take into the play-offs the better.
“But it’s all about getting points on the board and starting to play play-off rugby now.
“The win over Plymouth is good for us going into this Rotherham match but at the end of the day it’s just another league game and that’s what we need to concentrate on.
“The Yorkshire derby between us and Rotherham in recent years has been a bit feisty and always will be but, as they say, form goes out of the window.
“We’ll prepare the same as we have done for everyone else and give them the respect they deserve.”
Leeds have won eight of their last nine games, the only blip being a 33-27 home loss to leaders Bristol, who they will probably face in the play-off semi-finals if they do finish fourth.
Walker’s hat-trick against Plymouth came inside only 32 minutes – two tries coming from some expert work by Leeds’ driving maul.
“I actually scored a hat-trick for Otley against Manchester once when they were having a difficult season but this was my first for Leeds,” said the 22-year-old. “I think I did 10 metres in total. I don’t often run that far. I try to get on the end of things, let everyone else do the hard work and take the glory.
“During the week we’d worked on our forward play, our line-out and the driving maul and it paid dividends.”
Walker, who has been on the club’s books since the age of 12, sees no reason why they cannot push on and earn promotion back to the elite.
The ex-England Under 20s captain adds that the intense competition currently in evidence at Headingley is having a marked effect on performances.
“The quality in the back-row is unbelievable so to be in and amongst that and getting the opportunity brings the best out of me as it would for any top-class back-rower,” said Walker, who has played 64 games since debuting against the Scarlets in the LV Cup in 2010.
“If I can get in the side I need to work as best as possible to have any chance of being anywhere near the team. We’ve still got quality players like the young lad Jack Barnard who came on against Plymouth and James Boyle. There are lads not getting into the squad. It just shows.”
Rotherham have an almost identical record to Leeds given they have both won 16 games, lost just five and secured 11 bonus points.
Even the clubs’ points difference is nearly the same, the West Yorkshire outfit on 263 compared to their rivals’ 258.
For Rotherham chief Lee Blackett, who has defied the odds to put them right in the promotion reckoning during his first season as a head coach, the desire to reclaim third spot is strong.
“We’ve massively over-achieved all year and, of course, it would be nice to finish third as we’ve been in the top four since the first ball was kicked at the start of the season,” he said.
“It’s live on TV, which does always make a difference and, for our fans especially, we always want to get a result against Leeds as it’s a Yorkshire derby. But we have to concentrate on us and building for these play-offs.”
Rotherham, who lost 19-10 at Headingley in November, have received a boost with the news that influential captain Charlie Mulchrone should be fit for the forthcoming fixtures.
The scrum-half departed with an arm injury after just 18 minutes of Sunday’s 40-20 win at Cornish – the visitors trailed 20-7 at half-time – but has responded well to treatment.
“Charlie is likely to be okay and in the squad,” admitted ex-Leeds winger Blackett.
“The main decision is whether or not we take a gamble on (second-row) Tom Holmes with his shoulder problem or just rest him and get him ready for the play-offs.”