NOBODY WAS at fault for Leeds Rhinos’ poor start to the season, it was just one of those things.
That is according to former England forward Brett Ferres, now Leeds’ place in the top-flight next year is assured.
Rhinos aren’t mathematically safe but, with two rounds remaining, are four points ahead of Betfred Super League’s bottom club London Broncos and have an advantage of 269 on for and against.
Boss Dave Furner was sacked in May after Leeds had won only four of their opening 14 league games.
They have come out on top in seven of their subsequent 13 under interim-boss Richard Agar and risen two places to eighth in the table.
Assessing the second half of the season, Ferres said: “It has been a lot better.
“I think we just had a difficult period at the start of the season.
“I don’t think that was through anyone’s fault; it was just the way it worked out, but the last, probably, 10 weeks we’ve certainly knuckled down and worked hard and put ourselves in some decent spots.
“We’ve had blips along the way, but we have been learning as a group and, fair credit to Rich, he has come in and done a good job.”
Leeds’ biggest improvement has been in defence.
Having leaked 375 points – at an average of 26.7 per game – for the first 14 rounds, they have conceded 245 in their past 13, an average of 18.8.
“I don’t think Leeds have ever struggled to score points,” Ferres said.
“But, if you can’t back that up with your D [defence] you are struggling, it makes it a real contest.
“We have certainly been better defensively, we’ve worked together as a group and I think that’s the difference.”
A 36-10 win at London two days ago effectively sealed Super League survival and Ferres reckons Leeds’ performance showed how far they have come.
He said: “It is difficult, we have had some tough, tight games and going down to London, who have been playing very well, was always going to be a potential banana skin.
“We were pleased with our performance and I thought we were good in a lot of areas.
“We worked really hard in our D, we forced the issue a few times, but the quality was there and it was a good win for us.”
Rhinos rarely do things the easy way and had to endure a tense spell in the second half when Broncos reduced an 18-point half-time deficit to just eight.
They scored two tries and dominated field position, but Rhinos finished strongly.
Ash Handley’s 67th minute touchdown, on a rare Leeds attack, broke the home side’s resistance and Rhinos added two more tries after that to complete their 11th win of the Super League campaign.
“They are a good team,” Ferres said of London.
“They have got threats right across the park.
“They have surprised a lot of people this year and it’s a shame they are in the position they are.
“A few years ago they’d be in a different spot, but there is a bit of relief in our camp.
“We went down there and did a job and were professional about it and now we’ve got two big weeks coming up.”
Rhinos’ final fixtures are both at Emerald Headingley, against fourth-placed Salford on Friday before Challenge Cup holders Warrington Wolves, who are third, bring the curtain down on Leeds’ season a week later.
Rhinos’ only win against the current top-five was an early-season victory at Salford and Ferres reckons knocking off two leading teams would be “a bit of payback” for Leeds’ fans.
A huge contingent made the trip from Leeds to London, helping set a ground record attendance and Ferres said: “It has been a tough year, but they have stuck by us.
“We have got two performances at home to nail off and make the table look a bit prettier for us and to finish on a high, to go into pre-season and build on it from there.”
Ferres reckons the experience gained by some young players this year will stand Rhinos in good stead.
“Ash Handley, Harry Newman, Jack Walker, Mikolaj Oledzki, Cameron Smith, they are all coming through – they are the next generation,” he predicted.
“It is important for us older heads to teach them and show them the way and help them out through the tough experiences. Hopefully we have done that.”
In contrast, 33-year-old Ferres is out of contract this autumn and has yet to sign a deal at Leeds or elsewhere.
Ferres, though, is relaxed about the situation.
“I am keeping my options open,” he said.
“There’s a few bits and bats on the table.
“I have spoken to Leeds quite a lot.
“I will do what’s right for me and my family and look forward to playing next year, wherever I am.”