'It's in our control' Leeds Rhinos' Morgan Gannon on recent form, play-off hopes and facing Salford Red Devils' Kallum Watkins

Sunday’s visit of in-form Salford Red Devils is a chance for Leeds Rhinos to show how far they have come in the three months since Rohan Smith took over as coach.

By Peter Smith
Saturday, 6th August 2022, 6:00 am

A 26-12 defeat at Salford in March ended Richard Agar’s spell in charge and Smith’s reign began in similar fashion, losing 23-8 on the same ground two months later.

Salford were sixth on the table at the start of this weekend’s Betfred Super League round 22 - one point ahead of Leeds - and are on the back of a stunning 44-12 win over league leaders St Helens last Sunday.

“We are nought from two against them this year so we want to get a win,” Rhinos forward Morgan Gannon noted.

Morgan Gannon seen scoring in this season's home win over Hull KR. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.

“They are going really well as a team, they are throwing the ball about and they’re defensively strong as well.

“We are expecting the best version of them, definitely.”

But Gannon, who did not play in either of the away defeats to Salford, reckons Rhinos are in a much better place now than before the previous encounters.

“We have come a long way since then,” he insisted.

Rohan Smith's first game as Leeds coach was away to Salford in May. Picture by John Clifton/SWpix.com.

“We are definitely a better team than the last time we played them and we should put a good fight up.”

Rhinos are aiming for a third successive win, something they have not achieved since last August and spirits are high following last Saturday’s 36-32 extra-time victory at Catalans Dragons.

Rhinos trailed 30-6 when Matt Prior was sent-off in the second half and Gannon reflected: “It was a pretty special comeback and we’ve come in this week buzzing.

“It has been bouncing, but we’ve got a new task now against Salford.

“There’s only so much you can bring in from last week, but it gives us confidence.

“The score wasn’t looking that good for us, but we always had that belief we could do something.

“Going forward, it gives us the belief that when the chips are down we have always got a way to fight back.”

Spectacular as Leeds’ record comeback was, facing a 24-point deficit isn’t ideal and Gannon admitted there are things to put right from the opening 50 minutes.

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“The better you start, the better you can go on,” he stressed.

“We are looking at how we are starting games; if we can put ourselves on the front foot early on, it goes a long way to helping us in the second half.”

Depending on Hull’s result at Huddersfield Giants on Friday, a win over Salford could lift Leeds into the top six for the first time this season, but Gannon insisted: “Nobody has mentioned the table.

“It is down to us, really, it’s in our control.

“If we put some results together we will make it, so nobody’s too worried about if we are in or if we’re not.

“We are just looking at each week and winning each week and if we do that, we’re going to make the play-offs.

“That’s first and foremost.”

Gannon, 18, has featured in 18 of Rhinos’ 22 competitive fixtures this year, switching between starting second-row and the bench.

“I am just happy to be playing at the minute,” he said.

“The team’s going well and I am happy to keep my spot in the 17.

“I am playing limited minutes coming off the bench, but I am enjoying being out there.

“I am still young so there’s a lot more game time ahead of me.

“I am just happy to get out there when I can and enjoying the minutes when I’m playing.

“Rohan is a good development coach for us young lads especially.

“He has really brought us on a lot and I am definitely learning and developing.”

Sunday will be a special occasion for Salford’s Kallum Watkins, who is set to face Leeds at Headingley for the first time since leaving the club - where he won every available honour - midway through the 2019 season.

Watkins, who scored 110 tries and 85 goals in 222 Super League appearances for Leeds, has moved from centre to Gannon’s position of second-row.

“He was a Leeds player when I was watching them and he’s been Leeds’ captain,” Gannon recalled.

“He’s a pretty big name so it would be quite cool to play against him.”