TONIGHT’S TOUGH challenge at St Helens is the ideal way for Leeds Rhinos to begin their fightback, Rob Burrow says.
Rhinos finished five spots below fourth-placed St Helens in the 2016 regular season and spent most of the year in a battle against relegation.
The aim this year is to get back among the trophies and Burrow reckons a good opening performance against one of the top sides will show they mean business.
“It’s a real good start,” said Burrow, who will make his 500th career appearance tonight.
“There’s no easy games anyway.
“You’d like to go ‘we’ll win that one, we’ll beat them’, but it doesn’t work like that any more. For me personally, it’s better playing a good team away because you know what’s coming.
“You know it’s going to be hard and if you don’t play well you’ll get beaten easily.
“We know we need to be on our top game and it’s nice to start with a big game because you look forward to games like St Helens away.
“The fact we are getting it out of the way early is good and we’re all looking forward to it. It’s a great stadium and it’s going to be good to get out there and start in Super League against a good team.”
There’s confidence in Rhinos’ camp that they are in better shape this year, but Burrow admitted the proof will come tonight.
“Friendlies are there to get things right and get some running in your legs, but ultimately the first game is what you’re aiming for,” he said.
“We want to start big this year and it’s evident we will need that against Saints, who are always good and always play well against Leeds.”
After a poor showing in their Boxing Day defeat by Wakefield Trinity, Leeds produced strong defensive efforts to beat Kingstone Press Championship sides Hull KR and Featherstone Rovers in their full-scale practice matches.
Burrow said: “I think this is the best and most enjoyable pre-season I’ve had.
“Things are changing from when I started, there’s a lot more sports science stuff now, but it’s relevant.
“We’re not just doing stuff and thinking ‘well that’s probably not going to help me in a game’.
“Everything we’ve done has been relevant to a game situation.
“It has been good. It has been really tough, but when you know you are doing something in training that’s going to benefit you in games you really get a lot out of it.
“Everybody’s really had a dig. We’ll all very determined this year and being poor last year gave us a bit of an extra pre-season, which isn’t what you want, but you have to make the best of it.
“We’ve probably had a couple more weeks than we should have done, but we are going to use that to our advantage.”
Burrow, who made his debut in 2001, will turn 35 in September, but insisted retirement isn’t in his mind at the moment.
“I feel good,” he stated.
“I feel fresh and still feel sharp. Recovery is a lot tougher now and takes longer, but while ever I feel I can do a job and add to the team I will hang around.”
Burrow said he is as excited now as at the end of his first pre-season 16 years ago.
“Last year re-set it,” he said of his enthusiasm for the new campaign.
“It was a different experience, not a great one, but different. We have sampled what it was like to be at the bottom of the table and now we need to get back to the top.”