PLAYERS USUALLY take things from week to week and we haven’t spent much time talking about this year’s new format.
But there’s only two games left in the weekly rounds now and the Super-8s are almost here, so it’s going to be interesting to see how that pans out.
It is a big change and I think it is going to make the second half of the season really interesting and intense.
The pressure is on to get into the top-eight and then the top-four and after that the top-two at the end of the Super-8s.
At the moment everybody is fighting to get into the best possible position for the 8s. You get four home games if you finish in the top-four and that’s what everybody wants.
Points in the regular season carry over, so there’s no opportunity to rest anybody and if you are still in the Challenge Cup, like we are, there’s no weekend off.
Every game in the 8s is going to be a big one, so you want to be in good form going into that. There’s only one round of the play-offs now and that means there’s no room for error.
You have to be in the top-four of the 8s to qualify for the semi-finals and then it’s a one-off sudden-death game for a place at Old Trafford.
We’ve won the title from fifth in the past, but that won’t be good enough this year, so the pressure is really on.
If that sounds complicated, that’s one of the problems with the new system. But it’s pretty simple once you get your head around it and I think it’s going to make for an exciting end to the year.
At the moment, it looks like we could have home games against St Helens, Wigan, Castleford and Warrington and have to travel to Huddersfield, Catalans and Hull, so that is a tough end to the year.
We aren’t looking at the fixtures for the 8s yet. They could change between now and the end of the month, so there’s no point worrying about them until the list is published.
Hopefully we’ll have a few players back in time for the 8s. It looks like the Cup semi-final at the end of the month might be a bit early for Stevie Ward, which is a blow for us and him.
He has been brilliant this year. He has really stepped up to the plate. It was his first opportunity to have a real pre-season and he gained some strength and has been a stand-out for us.
You never want to lose any of your best players, but the bonus is he is going to get a rest ahead of the 8s and he’ll be fresh for the big games coming up.
Hopefully we’ll have Jamie Jones-Buchanan and Tom Briscoe available in time for the semi-final.
They are quality, experienced players, but I think Ash Handley should be proud of the way he has stepped in during Tom’s injury.
Everyone was pleased for him after his hat-trick last week. Ash has done a fantastic job. He has played more games than he’d have expected to, but he’s shown he has a big future.
He had a tough time a few weeks ago, but that happens with young players.
He was a bit down after his error against Cas, but to bounce back and get a hat-trick against Saints says a lot about his character.
The other news this week is that Brian McDermott is now coach of the United States.
I think that’s a good role for him and a great appointment for them.
We’ve got good links with the USA rugby league after our pre-season camps there and as far as I know, we’ll be going back to Jacksonville next year.
There could be some untapped talent there.
They have some big, strong athletes who don’t have a sport to play if they don’t make it in American football and it would be good to bring a few of those through into our game.
It’s a good opportunity for Mac to go over there and add a bit of technical expertise and maybe develop a few players. I’m sure he’ll do an outstanding job.
MITCH ACHURCH took time out from his injury lay off to answer my questions for today’s column.
Mitch, pictured inset, is currently recovering from a fractured wrist and he has been a big loss for us, because he was in good form before he got hurt.
He has had some bad luck with injuries during his Rhinos career, but hopefully Mitch will be fit and firing when it comes to the business end of the season.
If you’ve got any questions for the Rhinos players, email me via Peterj.email@example.com or you can contact me on Twitter.
1: What’s your favourite food? Thai.
2: Favourite holiday destination? Bali.
3: Dream car? Ferrari.
4: Favourite away ground? KC Stadium.
5: Toughest opponent? Warrington.
6: Best rugby league moment? My NRL debut for Penrith Panthers.
7: Favourite joke: What’s black and white and red all over....A newspaper!
8: Wembley or Old Trafford? Wembley.
9: Do you have any superstitions? No, not really.
10: Funniest team-mate? Brad Singleton thinks he’s funny, but he’s not!