ASSESSING HOW this season has gone so far for Leeds Rhinos, chief executive Gary Hetherington has described it as a marathon, not a sprint.
Betfred Super League round 13 began with Rhinos in a disappointing sixth place in the table, with six wins and a draw from 11 games played.
They were seven points adrift of leaders St Helens, with a similar gap over the bottom four.
The reigning champions, who were second in the table last year, have won only two of their last six matches, but the three losses in that time have all been by a single point, and Hetherington insisted he is not dismayed by their league position.
“We have had a solid start,” was Hetherington’s assessment of the first half of the regular campaign.
“We’ve won some close games and also had three one-point losses.
“I don’t believe we’ve hit the heights yet or got to full pace, but we are capable of doing so.”
Hetherington said the positives so far are the fact Rhinos have been “competitive in every game” and the form of young and fringe players called up owing to Leeds’ continuing injury woes.
“The young players – Jack Walker, Cameron Smith and Mikolaj Oledzki – have all come in and performed admirably,” he said. “Ash Handley and Josh Walters have stepped in and shown themselves to be every bit Super League players.
“The new boys, Richie Myler and Brad Dwyer, have settled in well and made a real contribution, and I’d like to think we are ready to kick on now.”
The top eight after 23 rounds will go through to the Super-8s, with the leading quartet having four home games and the rest only three.
The top four after the additional seven fixtures will compete in semi-finals for a place in October’s title decider at Old Trafford.
Hetherington said it is appropriate that the midway point of the regular season coincided with the staging of the London Marathon.
“There’s a lot of similarities between our season and a marathon,” he said. “The first 12 rounds are like the 10-mile stage. You aim to get a really solid start and be among the leaders.
“The next 11 rounds are like the next 10 miles. You are looking to build on past results and challenge the leaders.
“Approaching round 23 there’s a real focus and threat because you have to be in the top eight, or you will have to battle to win back your place in Super League. If you are not in the leading pack at this stage, you are unlikely to win the race.
“The Super-8s are like the last six miles.
“You have to fight for a place in the top four and to gain some real momentum. As you approach the finish line, it becomes a sprint.
“Those with energy, desire and ability will win the race.”
Hetherington added: “The Super League season, over 30 rounds, is a really intense battle. It is a real marathon – you have to be solid at all phases and come up with a winning finish.”