SEVEN-TIME Grand Final winner Carl Ablett believes Leeds Rhinos’ best triumph will be the next one.
Despite having won every available club honour - including the Betfred Super League title last term - Ablett stressed he is as hungry for silverware now as when he made his debut in 2004.
Rhinos begin their Super League title defence away to Warrington Wolves on Thursday, February 1.
That will be their first competitive game since beating Castleford Tigers in the 2017 Grand Final and Ablett insisted memories of that night will inspire Rhinos this year.
“You do it for moments like that in October,” said Ablett.
“All the tough times, it makes it worthwhile when you get to lift that trophy at Old Trafford.
“It never gets boring lifting a trophy. People ask what’s the best one - it is always the next one. Sport is like that, as soon as you win one there’s challenges ahead that you need to face.
“We have got a tough start of the year, then the World Club and then we’re fully into the season so there’s plenty of challenges to come and we are enthusiastic and looking forward to it.”
The visit to Warrington - where Rhinos have not won in Super League since 2010 - will be followed by a ‘home’ game against former Leeds captain Danny McGuire’s Hull KR at Elland Road, on February 8.
A squad of 17 players and three staff will then fly out to Australia the following morning, with Rhinos visiting Widnes Vikings just nine days after taking on Melbourne Storm in the World Club Challenge.
It never gets boring lifting a trophy. People ask what’s the best one - it is always the next one. Sport is like that, as soon as you win one there’s challenges ahead that you need to face.Leeds Rhinos’ Carl Ablett
Rhinos’ previous title defence, two years ago, was a disaster and they were in danger of relegation for much of the campaign after losing their first four competitive fixtures, but Ablett reckons they are in much better shape now.
“I think we are in a healthy position,” he insisted. “Obviously we have lost some experience in Rob (Burrow) and Danny, but the people who have come in are bringing something to our team, which is important.
“When you bring players in from outside the club they have got to contribute to the group. I think they have come in and added to it.
“Obviously the team is evolving, as it has done for the last couple of years.
“We have lost some legends who have played for this club for a long time, so it is a natural evolution, but at the moment it is looking well.”
Rhinos’ first competitive game is less than a month away, but Ablett said their current focus is on making the most of pre-season.
“As players, we see it as a challenge,” said the former England second-rower.
“You get time to work on things and physically prepare yourself.
“The more mature and older that you get, the wiser you get and you find out how important it is at this time of year when you can get some work done and physically prepare yourself for what lies ahead.
“I think all clubs will say the same.
“It has been tough, but that’s what pre-season is for - to test yourself physically and mentally and prepare you for a pretty gruelling, long season.
“Everyone has to do it and you have to embrace the challenge of working hard and getting the most out of it.”