THREE TIMES this year Leeds Rhinos have recorded back-to-back wins, only to lose their next match.
League leaders St Helens stand between Rhinos and an end to that miserable streak at Emerald Headingley tomorrow – and captain Trent Merrin reckons three successve wins – for the first time in Betfred Super League since 2017 – would be another step forward for an improving team.
“If we can tick that box, especially against the league leaders, it will be a great achievement,” Merrin said.
More significantly, victory would leave Rhinos closer to the play-offs than relegation, six points clear of bottom club London Broncos and only four behind Salford Red Devils, who are fifth.
“We need to win and keep creeping up,” Merrin said of Leeds’ situation in the table. “We’ll be happy to get some more wins under our belt and see how far we can take it. Anything’s possible, but our main focus is us and chipping away and trying to get as many wins as we can.”
Even so, with four rounds remaining Leeds are one of five teams – almost half the competition – still in relegation danger. Coming from Australia’s NRL closed shop, that prospect has been an eye-opener for the former St George-Illawarra and Penrith Panthers pack man.
He said: “It is the first time I have been part of a competition that has relegation. It does give you goosebumps when you are down at the bottom, but I think it builds character too. It tests your strength as a team and the resilience of the group to stay away from it, but we are looking up, not down.”
After being bottom of the pile less than two months ago, Rhinos have climbed to eighth and Merrin feels that “shows the character of the group to rebuild from what we went through and put ourselves in a better position”.
He reflected: “We have still got a lot to work on and there’s still a lot of room for improvement, but the last two months of footy have been excellent, the way we have come together, built character within the group and come up with some great performances.
“It has been a challenging year, but I think you learn the most from years like this.”
Based on the six games since Merrin was appointed captain, Leeds are fourth in Super League’s form table, behind Wigan Warriors, St Helens and Salford Red Devils. Merrin, though, played down his own impact on recent improved performances.
“It has been a great honour to captain a club like Leeds Rhinos,” he stated. “You look at the history of the club and how proud they are and the players who come through the system.
“To be able to take on that role, it has been a great honour and a privilege, but my role doesn’t change much.
“I just go about my job and lead from the front and do the best job I possibly can. We have got some great young players here and it is just about leading them in the right direction, getting that passion back for the jersey and showing them Leeds is a top club and there’s plenty of future at the joint.
“If I can do my part there I am doing all right.”
Rhinos’ fans played a part in the 48-8 hammering of Catalans Dragons six days ago, lifting the players after Brad Singleton was sent-off early in the first half.
“It was something special for me, I haven’t really experienced a crowd like that over here,” Merrin recalled. “To look up and see all the torches out and the fans singing and dancing, it was great to see.
“After the year we’ve had, it was great to give something back to them. They have shown faith throughout the whole year and to put on a result like that and get them up singing and dancing and being able to enjoy the full game was something special.”
Rhinos will wear the logo of the Samaritans charity on tomorrow’s playing shirt after the space was donated by the club’s main sponsor, Leeds Building Society. It is a cause close to Merrin’s heart, and he declared: “I am very proud. For our sponsors to do that for Samaritans – and raise money and awareness for mental health – is massive.
“It is definitely something that needs to be spoken more of.
“The statistics are through the roof with suicide and mental health and the more we can bring awareness to that area the more it will help the community.
“I am very proud to talk about it and bringing awareness to it is something I am passionate about.”