WHAT A difference a year makes.
Coach Brian McDermott is confident Leeds Rhinos are going into the new season well-prepared and in good shape - which is stark contrast to this time last year.
Rhinos won only three of their first 19 competitive fixtures in 2016, after a pre-season disrupted by a late start – due to their Grand Final triumph and international calls – and devastating floods at their Kirkstall training base.
Most of Rhinos’ squad are injury-free now and have been training since November, which McDermott reckons will give them a head start when they begin their Betfred Super League campaign away to St Helens tomorrow.
Thinking back 12 months, McDermott recalled: “We had four weeks’ pre-season last year, actually operationally on the field.
“I think we had something like 12 or maybe 16 maximum field sessions throughout the whole of pre-season, because of the floods.
“A lot of those, a big chunk of those, were before Christmas and it was the wettest pre-season ever.
“That’s old stuff, but when you start going through a normal pre-season and you start to get some real work done it dawns on you how effective the lack of a real pre-season last year was.”
Finishing touches were applied to preparations last week, when Rhinos went down on the farm for a training camp in rural North Yorkshire.
“We’ve done it in the past,” McDermott said.
“We did it in 2011, my first pre-season camp with the players as head coach.
“The objective of this one was just to cap off what’s been a great pre-season.
“We didn’t do anything extreme on camp, we weren’t up there for days and days.
“We’ve only been up there for a couple of nights, three days. There will have been some challenges up there because three groups have been out doing a different activity each morning and it has been in inclement weather.
“But the food has been great and we’ve had a good get-together each evening. I am not interested in breaking the fellas or seeing them outside their comfort zone, to try and see the ugly side of them or anything like that.
“It’s just about them getting together and enjoying each other’s company at the end of what has been a very thorough, long, hard, but successful pre-season and it’s important we do that.”
McDermott will only find out how well preparations have really gone when the first whistle blows tomorrow.
It is a tough opener, but the coach insisted: “I think it’s a great start to the season for us.
“We get to test ourselves against an extremely good team and a team that’s going to be there at the end of the year in the mix.
“We have got a few objectives for the Saints game and we want a fair few things out if it. One of them is a win, but we want to play well.
“We want to have a fair amount of commitment to each other during the year and it all starts at St Helens.”