IT IS a time in the season every player dreads, but the Easter holiday weekend could be a springboard for Leeds Rhinos.
Four wins from their opening six games have left Rhinos fourth in the table, four points behind leaders St Helens, but with a game in hand.
The champions are away to Huddersfield Giants this afternoon and play host to Salford Red Devils on Monday.
With Giants second from bottom in the table and Salford only one place better off, four points is a realistic possibility and two wins would be a huge boost to Leeds’ chances of a semi-final place at the end of the year.
Huddersfield, though, have been a thorn in Rhinos’ side in recent seasons and will have a new man at the helm in Chris Thorman, who took over as caretaker-boss after Rick Stone was sacked on Tuesday.
Leeds winger Tom Briscoe knows the importance of the coming few days, but says Rhinos’ main focus is on improving from match to match.
“We can’t go into either game thinking we are expected to win,” he said.
“Huddersfield away is always a difficult one for us.
“We know that and we are concentrating on getting better, especially in the first 10 minutes.
“That’s what let us down in the Cas game, our start. We need to fix that up and we will be doing everything we can to do that.
“Then, going into Monday, it’s a case of doing the best you can. You try to do as much recovery as you can in the limited time available.”
Despite the 25-24 loss against Castleford Tigers a week ago, Briscoe reckons Rhinos are in good form.
They won at St Helens the week before and battled back from 24-0 down against Tigers, eventually out-scoring last year’s league leaders by five tries to four.
“In the last two performances, barring the first 10 minutes against Castleford, we’ve shown some good quality and what we are about as a team,” Briscoe said. “I think if we can maintain that for the rest of the season we will do a lot of good things.”
Rhinos’ attacking performance in the final 54 minutes against Tigers was the best they have produced this season and Briscoe reckons it was an indication of what they can do when they click.
“We threw the ball about a bit,” he said. “I think we felt we needed to, to try and get some points back and it worked for us.
“We will take a bit of that risk-taking and off-the-cuff stuff and if we can put it together with a good start I think we will be a tough team to beat.”
Briscoe is also confident Rhinos’ defence is in good shape.
Three of the tries they conceded to Castleford came in successive sets.
But he said: “After that we were solid and we scrambled really well for each other and saved a lot of tries. Putting the bad start to one side, we played really well.”
Of the importance of the Easter period, which culminates in a derby at Wakefield Trinity on Sunday, April 8, the former England man stressed: “It is six points in a week and it can turn a season.
“We will be looking to get as many points out of this next week or two as we can and try and come out of it in the best shape possible. As a player you know it’s coming.
“Especially in the situation we are in, with the injuries we’ve got, everyone will be putting their hand up to play and do their bit for the team. Everyone is in the same boat, it is a tough period that everyone knows is coming and everyone hates to play in, but we’ve just got to get on with it.”
Meanwhile, Briscoe has paid tribute to youngster Ash Handley for his form since being called into the side last month.
He scored a hat-trick at Saints and two tries against Tigers and Briscoe said: “He had a great pre-season, he was one of the stand-out players and it’s great to see him getting a chance early on in the year. He is putting down a marker to show where he’s at and it’s great to see. It’s great for competition for the guys coming back as well.”
Handley, 22, is a specialist winger, but has set his stall out as a Super League-standard centre in recent games.
“He has had limited time in Super League to show what he’s all about,” Briscoe said. “I think it’s more to do with the run of games he’s had and to consistently be playing and learning and improving.
“The only way you get to do that is by playing and he has shown up really well.”