ENGLAND CENTRE Kallum Watkins reckons Leeds Rhinos will show their true colours tonight.
Rhinos begin their Betfred Super-8s campaign at home to champions Wigan Warriors just six days after a painful 43-24 Ladbrokes Challenge Cup semi-final defeat by Hull.
Rhinos, known as a big-game team, fell flat in their most important match of the season so far, but they remain in a good position to push on and claim a place in the Grand Final and Watkins believes they will come up with the right response tonight.
“Obviously we were disappointed with the result and the performance,” he said of the semi-final setback.
“Especially in the second half we weren’t good enough.
“Full credit to Hull, they played brilliantly well and they got away from us in the second half.
“You can’t criticise the commitment we had.
“We showed the attitude you need in those big games, but when opportunities came we didn’t take them as much as Hull did.
“We move on now, we have to move on pretty quickly and we have got another big game this week against Wigan.”
Watkins reckons every game in the eights will be “huge”.
Leeds begin with a four-point advantage over fifth-placed Wakefield Trinity and Watkins insisted: “We want to finish as high up the table as possible and stay in the top-four.
“Everybody’s a long way behind Cas now and they would have to lose a handful of games to be caught, but our aim is to play well and get the results we need.
“It’s just about performing consistently, that’s what we need in these big, tough games.
“It is really important we crack on from here.”
Watkins – who was among Rhinos’ semi-final try scorers – said everyone in the camp has been disappointed this week, but the mood is positive going into the final quarter of the campaign.
“We had an opportunity and we didn’t take it, but for us it’s about moving on quickly now,” he stressed.
“We have got another opportunity, as do the other teams in the Super-8s.
“Obviously we were down at the time and early in the week, but our major focus now is on another big game against Wigan.
“It is always a tough battle when we play Wigan, but it is usually a classic, especially at Headingley.”
Rhinos faced Wigan at DW Stadium in the final round of the regular season 14 days ago.
Their below-strength team, including seven teenagers, was beaten 34-0 – the first time Leeds had failed to score in a game for 19 years – but Watkins predicts tonight will be totally different with Rhinos coach Brian McDermott able to select from almost a fully-fit squad.
“It won’t have any bearing,” he said of the game two weeks ago.
“We know Wigan have come good and they are going to have a say in these Super-8s, definitely.
“We have to prepare ourselves for the best of them because they will need to be at their best throughout the Super-8s if they’ve got any chance of getting to the top-four.
“We will see the best of them and for us it’s about responding from last week, getting a result and keeping us up there in the table.”
Rhinos have not lost at home to Wigan since a 50-8 drubbing in June, 2012.
Watkins admitted they are aware of that, but can’t rely on previous results.
“It’s not something we’ve talked much about,” he said.
“When it’s Leeds and Wigan, wherever it is – whether it’s here or at Wigan or in a semi-final or final – it is always tight and tense and you’ve always got to bring your best game to get a result.
“Our home results against them have been pretty good, but it’s all down to playing well against a good team.
“We need that again to give ourselves an opportunity.”
The top-four at the end of the extra seven rounds will contest the semi-finals with the top-two having home advantage.
Five points separate fourth-placed Salford Red Devils from Huddersfield Giants who are eighth so the race is wide open.
Watkins reckons every team in the top-eight are potential Grand Finalists, which means each week is an opportunity to lay down a marker ahead of the play-offs and title decider.
He said: “For us, it’s just about concentrating on what we need to do and making sure we perform well throughout the Super-8s.
“If we do that we will give ourselves the opportunity to get into the semi-finals and get a home game.
“That’s what it’s all about.
“We want to get to Old Trafford and to be successful.
“We had an opportunity last weekend and didn’t take it so our focus now is just on the Super-8s and pushing on now.
“We’ve got a tough few weeks coming up and we are looking forward to it.
“We are confident we can get there. For us it’s about getting our consistency right in these big games.
“That gives you a bit more momentum going into the semi-finals and if you get to Old Trafford as well.
“It is really important for us to play well and build some momentum.”