LEEDS RHINOS are heading in the right direction, second-rower Cameron Smith reckons.
Rhinos will attempt to complete back-to-back wins in Betfred Super League for the first time in a year when they visit Salford Red Devils tomorrow evening.
They were in cruise control when they led 22-0 at half-time against Hull KR five days ago and added a converted try soon afterwards, but then the wheels came off and the visitors ran in 24 unanswered points, though Leeds held on at the end.
Their last three home league games have followed the same pattern and Smith admitted it is hard to pinpoint what is going wrong once they have built what should be a match-winning lead.
“I don’t have the answers, I just think it’s a collective thing,” he said. “It’s not down to certain individuals, I think it’s the team – we need to respect the ball and finish our sets a bit better, but other than that I think our offence is really coming on and we are looking good.”
The success against Hull KR was Rhinos’ fourth successive home win in all competitions and they have lost only two of their last five league matches.
That is not championship form, but still an improvement after one victory in their opening eight games. They are still conceding too many points, but Smith feels Rhinos’ defence is improving and that is largely down to “talking to each and trusting each other and the system”.
He said: “We looked pretty good I thought. The last couple of tries they scored had a bit of luck on their side, but I was happy overall. Winning ugly is still winning and we were happy to take those two points. Hopefully we can keep building on performances now and keep getting combinations right and working on our D [defence].”
Smith has played in half Rhinos’ 14 competitive games this year. He missed three after damaging a foot in last month’s defeat at Hull KR, but returned against the same opponents last weekend.
“I loved being back,” Smith said. “I have been itching to get out there for the past couple of weeks so it was nice to get back and even better we got the win.
“I am just trying to build on performances now and try to keep that spot.”
Of his effort against Hull KR, Smith added: “I was really happy with it. You feel it on the lungs a bit when you’ve missed a couple of games, but other than that I thought it was a strong performance.
“We had a bit of a blip in the second half, but I am sure we will get on top of that.”
On a personal note, he added: “I felt really comfortable defending on the edge. I didn’t really get myself involved in the middle,
“It’s a team-first mentality so wherever I play I want to do a job. Whether it’s on the edge or in the middle I’ll give it my all.
“I don’t really know where I like playing yet, I am still figuring that out. Just game on game and performance on performance I am trying to build.”
Rhinos won 46-14 at Salford in February, but back-to-back league wins have proved beyond them so far this year.
“That would be a big thing for us and, hopefully, we will get the job done,” Smith said.
Rhinos are battered and bruised after the Easter fixture pile-up and Salford have had an extra day’s rest.
“Everybody is feeling it,” Smith confirmed. “I have been injured so I am pretty fresh and raring to go, but obviously some of the boys have played long minutes in three games in 10 days. It is always tough, but we have a mentally tough group and we’ll be ready to go again.”
Of Salford, he observed: “They look pretty sharp. We did a job on them earlier on in the year and it looks like they have built on performances since then and they are a pretty strong team now.
“I’m sure they will challenge us. We will just focus on what we can do right, not so much about them. If we get our things right I am sure we will be all right.”
Injury problems have made the task harder, but Smith insisted Leeds’ squad is strong enough to cope. He said: “Everybody knows their role so whoever comes in will be able to do a job and what they have to do and the responsibility they have.”
Six teenagers have played for Rhinos this year and Smith reckons others are waiting in the wings.
Leeds’ under-19s ended Wigan’s unbeaten run last week and Smith noted: “I only came out of the academy this year and when you get your chance you just want to grab it with both hands and just keep on playing.”