THERE’S MORE to come on attack, but Leeds Rhinos can be delighted with the way they are defending.
That’s the opinion of second-row Carl Ablett as Leeds prepare to enter the busy Easter period.
Rhinos – second in Super League – have conceded only 78 points in their nine competitive games this year, an average of 8.6 per match.
They are the only team to have leaked fewer than 100 points in First Utility Super League’s opening eight rounds and the highest score against them is 14, by St Helens, who are also the only team to breach Rhinos’ line more than twice.
“The most pleasing thing for us at the moment is the number of points we’ve conceded,” Ablett said.
“Defensively we are happy and I think that’s coming from the fact we’ve had a few years under (coach) Brian (McDermott) now. When he first came in it was hard, like it always is for a new coach.
“They can’t rip up the full systems and throw a lot of stuff at you, but year on year he has introduced some new ideas and his beliefs about how we go about defending.
“I thought at times last year we were getting it right, but not consistently from game to game or within a game. We have put a lot of focus on it and we have started the season well with our defence.
“We have got a very proud record at the moment and the big thing now is to maintain it. It is a tough division, but you have got to back up your efforts.
“At times it is tough doing that defensively, but we are trying to build our game around our defence. That’s what wins you the big games, being able to defend your line.”
Rhinos scored 102 points in last week’s back-to-back derbies against Wakefield Trinity Wildcats, winning 60-6 in the Tetley’s Challenge Cup and following up with a 42-6 Super League victory five days later.
Despite that spree, Ablett reckons their attack has yet to hit top gear. He said: “There’s still more to come from us with the ball, definitely.
“Attack-wise we were a little bit off on Friday. We made a few errors and there were a few people who weren’t running where we needed to be running.
“Losing Bish (Ben Jones-Bishop) didn’t help. We had Joel Moon and Liam Sutcliffe swapping about in the halves and at full-back and that disrupted us a bit, but we will get better at that.
“We were missing Zak (Hardaker) and Magsy (Danny McGuire) and they are two of our main pivotal players. When you take them out of your team it is bound to have an effect.
“But we have racked up a few scores and this is our best start to a season for a while. I think we are looking really threatening all over the pitch.
“Rob (Burrow) is dangerous out of No 9, Kev (Sinfield) and Mags are good in the halves and we’ve got some dangerous outside-backs who can do good things. We have set a good platform and we need to keep building on that.
“We’ve got some big games coming up over Easter and hopefully we can put it all to good effect.”
Rhinos begin their Easter schedule in three days’ time when they visit Bradford Bulls. They back-up at home to Salford Red Devils on Easter Monday and then face visitors St Helens in the Tetley’s Challenge Cup the following Saturday.
It is a crucial period and Ablett feels Rhinos are going into Easter in good shape. He said: “I think we’ve built some good momentum in the early part of the season. It is a pretty tough period coming up and it’ll just be about managing and recovering from games and preparing for the next one.
“It’s important we recover from Friday, get back in and prepare for Bradford and then worry about the short turn-around after that. We know what’s coming up and we will just take it one game at a time.”
Easter is when the genuine title challengers begin to emerge, Ablett feels. He added: “You can start to pick up points, climb the table and pull away from teams below you.
“If you can have a good Easter, at the end of it you can be sitting pretty. But we always focus on performance and that’s what we’ll be doing over the next couple of weeks.”
McDermott took the opportunity to rest Hardaker for last Friday’s game – along with McGuire and Brett Delaney who were carrying minor knocks – and Ablett feels that policy will pay off when the big games come around.
“I think it will help us later in the season,” he predicted. “We probably won’t get the benefits straight away, but at the back end of the season if you can have a week off just to have a rest and re-charge the batteries it will be a good thing.
“We will have a lot of people who will have played a lot of minutes and covered a lot of ground, so it is going to benefit them if they can get a bit of a rest.”