Leeds Rhinos: All eight teams aim to peak for play-offs - McGuire

Teenager Liam Sutcliffe has had a chance to shine on the first-team stage this season owing to injuires to Leeds Rhinos' senior players.
Teenager Liam Sutcliffe has had a chance to shine on the first-team stage this season owing to injuires to Leeds Rhinos' senior players.
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Check out Danny McGuire’s view from the dressing room.

I have heard people saying the nights are drawing in, so now is the time Leeds Rhinos start to play.

I can understand that to an extent, based on what has happened over the last few years, but I do find it a little bit disrespectful.

Nobody at Leeds deliberately cruises through the season and then turns it on when it gets to the business end. The way the season is structured, the big games – the Challenge Cup final, play-offs and Grand Final – are in August, September and October, so it makes sense to try and peak around that time.

Nobody remembers who plays well in February or March and nothing – other than the World Club Challenge – is won around then.

It’s how you perform at the back end that counts so obviously preparations are going to be geared towards being at your best then.

But no player, certainly not at Leeds, goes into a game thinking ‘it’s mid-season so it doesn’t matter and I’m not going to try my best today’ and it is nonsense to suggest we do. We want to win every game we play, but it is impossible to be at the top of your game all the way from start to finish. Like every other team we have off days and get injuries, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t giving 100 per cent.

Unlike some teams, at Leeds the senior players don’t tend to get rested or rotated, Brian Mac selects his strongest-available team every week and that shows what the club’s mindset is – we take every game seriously.

At the start of the year we were determined to improve on the fifth-place finish we had for the last two seasons. The initial aim was to finish top, so third is something we can be reasonably happy with, but we’d still have liked to do better.

We started pretty well and then had a bit of a blip around the middle of the season, which coincided with a series of injuries.

We have finished quite strongly and I think third place is about right, it reflects our performances over the course of the year and we’re happy to be guaranteed a home tie and a second chance if we lose in the opening round of the play-offs.

I think overall we’ve been pretty consistent, despite one or two dips here and there.

The spell in May, when we lost four in a row, cost us a Cup run and probably scuppered our chances of finishing in the top-two, but that was maybe understandable given how many key players got injured around that time.

The big positive is the way the team has come through the injury crisis, which was as bad as I’ve known during my time here – not just in terms of how many players we had out, but the length of time they were missing and who they were. Just about every senior player has been sidelined at some time or another.

The bonus from that has been the young players who have come into the side and not looked out of place.

I think with the talent he has, Liam Sutcliffe would probably have forced himself into the side anyway, but without injuries the likes of Thomas Minns, Alex Foster and Elliot Minchella would probably have had to wait another year or two for a chance.

It is great to see them do so well and it shows the club is getting things right and the future is in safe hands. These kids have proved they are ready for Super League and when they get an opportunity they’ll take it with both hands, so in a way the injuries have been a blessing in disguise.

I have said before I think it’s the job of all the senior players at the club to look after the lads who are just breaking through and to make the transition into the first team as smooth as possible for them – that is a sort of unwritten, uncontracted rule at Leeds.

There’s no jealousy, we all care about the future of the club and we want to see it doing well in the future, when we’ve all hung up our boots.

Challenge Cup finalists Hull are dark horses for the play-offs

I think this year’s play-offs could be the tightest yet.

Huddersfield have been pretty consistent all year and they deserved to finish top of the table.

Wigan have had a tough last couple of months – with the Challenge Cup final and injuries to key players – but they definitely can’t be written off.

Warrington and ourselves have also been consistent and the teams from five to eight have been up and down, which is why they have finished where they have.

St Helens, with the squad they have got, will feel they can go all the way, but I think Hull KR, Hull and Catalan will find it tough.

Of those, Hull are the dark horses. They’ve already had a good season, having reached the Cup final and they’ve got some quality players, so if they can get their act together they will quietly fancy their chances of causing some upsets.

We have a second bite of the cherry if we lose at Warrington tomorrow, but we’ll be treating it like a knockout game.

The Halliwell Jones is a stadium I enjoy playing at and I know the rest of the boys do too.

There’s always a good atmosphere and I can’t remember a dull game against Warrington.

They will be hungry to go one better than last year, but we don’t want to give up the title so the scene is set for a good game.

Hopefully we’ll have a big travelling support.

While I’ve got a chance I want to say thank you to everybody who made the trip to Wigan last week.

The away end was pretty full and the noise our fans made was tremendous. At some stage tomorrow we will need your support and I can promise you, it really does make a difference.

We are going into tomorrow’s game in decent shape. We’ve got a strong squad available, we’re in decent form and last week’s win – in a game of play-off intensity – has given us a confidence boost.

Hopefully we can carry on from where we left off last week and give all our fans something to cheer about.

Peacock deserves awards

Congratulations to Jamie Peacock on his selection in the Super League Dream Team and being named Rhinos’ player and fans’ player of the year.

The Leeds player of the year award was nailed on in my opinion. His performances this year have demanded it.

It is a great reward and hopefully there’s some bigger personal accolades still to come for him.

It has been a tough week for JP, with the sad death of his father and the courage he showed to leave his dad’s bedside to play last Thursday was remarkable. He turned in an unbelievable performance and that just proves what sort of a man he is.

He is an inspirational character and I know his family are rightfully very proud of him. He is a great player and a fantastic leader for us, but he’s also a good person and a great mate and for me that’s most important.

Jordan Lilley

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