Ian Millward has rejected the theory Leeds Rhinos are a spent force – but the Castleford Tigers coach insists his lowly side are capable of creating a shock at Headingley Carnegie on Sunday.
Rhinos have been written off as title contenders following a poor recent run which has seen them slip as low as ninth in Stobart Super League.
Millward reckons the defending champions – now eighth – will be in the hunt for honours at the end of the year, but he is in confident mood ahead of tomorrow’s derby.
“You have always got to keep very wary of what Leeds do, because they are the Super League holders,” Millward stressed.
“I thought maybe last year they were gone – and they won Super League. They have been winning the major events and they’ve also been in the last two Challenge Cup finals.
“That’s a very good squad – they’ve played in the two biggest games you can play, plus also the World Club Challenge.
“If you look at history and stats, they are a good team.
“The start of their campaign the last couple of years has been inconsistent and maybe that’s an attitude thing and having to get up for the World Club Challenge.
“That takes its toll, but when they see the finish line they are very strong and they show the ability they do have.
“There are 10 games to go and they are only a couple of weeks from a Challenge Cup semi-final.
“The next two weeks, if I was coaching Leeds, I’d be thinking we need to start hitting some form now.”
Tigers have had two weeks to prepare for this weekend’s game, following their last-gasp fifth win of the season, against Salford City Reds.
Rhinos are on the back of a 44-40 win over Wakefield Trinity Wildcats on Monday – and 10 of that squad also played two days earlier in representative matches.
“Playing three games in nine days is going to have an effect on them, but they are at home and that’s great for them,” Millward said.
“We had some blokes busted after the Salford game and if we’d played the week after we’d have had three or four out.
“The guys have had time off and we are looking forward to it. We are on the back of a win, we are on double figures of points now and the game’s going to be played at a great venue.
“I think we might surprise some people. I hope it’s a surprise for the better, but I am very positive going into it.”
Leeds coach Brian McDermott is aware Tigers will fancy their chances.
“They will certainly be the fresher team, no doubt about that,” McDermott said.
“They have got some very dangerous players – apart from Rangi Chase, there’s Danny Orr, Ryan McGoldrick, Craig Huby and Brett Ferres.
“We have got a lot of people who have played a lot of rugby in the last week or so, but we have had to go through our normal routine this week and prepare for this one as we do most games.”
The victory against Wildcats was only Rhinos’ second league win in six matches, but it has given them a lift ahead of tomorrow, McDermott insisted.
“It was a bit of a bizarre game and it wasn’t the greatest feeling in the changing room afterwards because we thought we should have done better,” he said. “It was a challenging night, but we found a way to win.”