SATURDAY’S OPENING tie in the Qualifiers will be a trip down memory lane for Leeds Rhinos forward Carl Ablett.
The 30-year-old’s most recent game at Big Fellas Stadium, Post Office Road, was for Rhinos’ academy more than a decade ago.
But he played there in his junior days and knows what to expect when Rhinos visit Rovers for the first time in a competitive game since 2000.
Last year’s treble winners are the highest-ranked team in the new competition, while Rovers claimed the eighth and final place, but Ablett insisted – after their most disappointing season for two decades – Rhinos have no intention of taking their eye off the ball.
“As a schoolboy it used to be the venue for finals,” he said of Rovers’ home ground.
“It was the venue to go to when you were a kid and I used to really enjoy going there.
“It has changed a bit since then, they’ve upgraded it with a couple of new stands and I’m excited to go back and see what it’s like.”
Rhinos are about to begin a battle for their top-flight lives, alongside the other three lowest teams from First Utility Super League and the Kingstone Press Championship’s top-four.
Four of their seven fixtures in the Qualifiers are at home, but the away games also include a trip to London Broncos’ new home, at Ealing Trailfinders, on August 20 and Ablett admitted some of the Leeds team could be in for a culture shock.
“It will be an experience for the young lads, who have played at nice stadiums on nice pitches,” he said.
“You don’t always get those luxuries.
“Sometimes you have to go to places where the changing rooms aren’t that nice and the pitches aren’t top-notch.
“It is the job we do, we’ve been dealt this and we need to go there and do a decent job.”
The artificial surface at Ealing will present Leeds with a challenge, but Ablett is confident playing on Rovers’ slope this weekend does not give them a mountain to climb.
He said: “I don’t think it has that much effect.
“People talk about Batley’s pitch, that’s the most extreme. I don’t think the one at Fev will have a major bearing on the game.
“There’s more important stuff we need to get right than worrying about a slope.”
Saturday’s game is not all-ticket. Rovers have reported huge interest and are hoping for a summer era record crowd of more than 6,500.
“It will be a good experience,” Ablett predicted.
“The fans are close to the pitch, from what I’ve heard, ticket sales are going really well and the Leeds fans are buying into it.
“I’m sure they’ll enjoy going there.
“It is local and they have been great all year.
“They’ve travelled and stayed behind us through the dark times and some big defeats in the middle of the season and all the lads really appreciate it.
“It’ll be great to see a big following at Fev.”