LEEDS RHINOS boss Brian McDermott declared himself “extremely proud” of his players after their 16-14 win over St Helens.
The victory - coupled with Hull’s home loss to Huddersfield Giants - means Rhinos have a three-point cushion in the race to finish second to Castleford Tigers and secure a home semi-final.
It was Leeds’ second win in three Betfred Super-8s fixtures and came eight days after a crushing 38-6 defeat at Wakefield Trinity.
They hit back from 8-2 down at the break and McDermott said: “I thought it was extremely good, really good.
“I don’t think I’ve ever not been proud of our players, though I don’t really say it publicly too much and gush too much publicly about them, but I was extremely proud to be their coach tonight.
“I don’t know where we got that second half from. I thought Saints were great and they were beating us off the deck in that first half consistently and we never really got a grip of their quick play-the-balls.
“We had far too many play-the-ball losses. I could only imagine that would have got worse in the second half because we made far too many errors and took too much defensive juice out of us.
“The talk at half-time from everybody I thought was pragmatic, but real as well. Some of it was ‘that’s not good’.
“We didn’t change anything tactically as such. We made one or two adjustments, but we had to go out there and roll our sleeves up and get ready for some hard work.
“They did that and continued to do that right down to the dying seconds.
“You might argue that we should have executed better and I would agree.
“We should have scored a few more tries, but sometimes the game’s not like that.
“I thought it was a great game of rugby league played by two teams who were as committed as anything.”
McDermott felt the fixture had the intensity of a final.
“They were great defensively and we found it really hard to break them down,” he said of Saints.
The game was the last before Headingley’s famous South Stand is demolished.
“It has been brilliant,” McDermott said of the iconic terrace, which was opened in 1931.
“There is going to be a new South Stand, but the old rusty thing that it is at the moment, that has got all the charm about it, we will miss that.
“If you could write a script we’d want to win, but you’d want it to be dramatic and to be a big game and we would want it to matter as well.
“For our aim of finishing second in the league that has given us a big boost.
“We have still got work to do, but we are in a good position.
“We have got a bit of breathing space, we are three points clear of Hull now and six clear of Wakefield in fourth and seven clear of Saints in fifth.
“The games are going to get tougher and the bar will get raised. We will probably need to have that commitment and desire for at least another three of the four games we’ve got left, but we’ll need to add some execution to it as well.
“We are not guaranteed top-four yet.”
Rhinos played with 15 men as McDermott left substitutes Jimmy Keinhorst - for a second successive game - and Rob Burrow on the bench throughout.
McDermott said he was “close all game” to bringing Burrow on.
“It’s a really difficult one for Rob,” he said.
“But I just thought Matt Parcell was going to carve them up at any stage and sometimes Matt Parcell goes through a heavy stage or a breathy stage.
“He didn’t tonight. He looked fresh all game. It is a tough one on Rob.”
Rhinos’ next game is at home to Challenge Cup finalists Hull on Thursday, August 31.
McDermott said his players will now get some time off before the crucial final few weeks of the campaign.
“At this stage of the year they just get right come the team run and then play, then walk about limping and hobble all week, so it is an invaluable week sometimes,” he said.