Rhinos last played on Sunday, May 31, after which one of their players tested positive for Covid, the whole squad was forced to isolate and their final two fixtures were cancelled.
However, Vitality Superleague rules state that in the event of Covid-enforced postponements, results from the last meeting between the two teams are taken, which handed Rhinos the two victories they needed to secure fourth place. It means they head to London’s Copper Box Arena for the play-off weekend and a semi-final date with top seeds Loughborough Lightning (tomorrow 2pm). Win that and it’s the Grand Final on Sunday (5pm) while even if they lose, there is the third-place play-off two hours before.
For such a grandiose occasion for the first-year programme, Dan Ryan their head coach, would like to be sending his team in as fully prepared as possible.
However, due to the isolation period and return-to-play protocols, they only trained for the first time in nearly three weeks on Sunday night.
“Yeah it’s been really challenging to be honest, but everyone has handled it really well considering the circumstances,” said Ryan.
“It’s certainly not an ideal way to prepare for a semi-final or have the build-up we have had, however we are incredibly grateful to be in the top four.”
Preparation this week included three training sessions that had to be shorter than usual as Ryan straddled a fine line between getting his players back up to match sharpness and not over-burdening them with pressure.
“We’ve been trying to get some match play into the sessions given how long it is since we last played. Getting the physicality and pressure simulation has been important.
“Trying to replicate the pressure of the games but also rebuild them considering they’ve been in their own houses for 10 days. It’s been a balancing act between preparing them and pushing them, but our No 1 focus is to make sure we’re in the best place we can be.”
Ryan revealed his players, led by England Roses veteran Jade Clarke and shooter Donnell Wallam, have gone through the emotions over the past few weeks, having been frustrated not to be able to seal their play-off place on the court.
“The race to the final four had been really exciting and we were loving being right amongst it,” said Ryan. “We loved having control back in our hands. When it was taken out of our control by results we thought we’d had our last training session and played our last game without knowing it was our last. That was bizarre.
“I certainly believe we’re the fourth best team and we’ve proved that throughout the competition, it’s just difficult to enter the final series having not played since May 31.”
Having said that, he is confident they can upset first Loughborough and then either Manchester Thunder or Team Bath who play in the other semi-final.
“If our worst-case scenario this weekend is to finish fourth, then that’s still a great achievement. For us there is nothing to lose, whereas for the three other teams if they don’t win the title it’ll be seen as quite a significant failure.
“So we’re in a different mindset, but we need to play on that as best we can. We know we’re capable. The girls need to go out there and be bold, be brave.”