THEIR ATTACK is not yet firing on all cylinders, but Carl Ablett reckons strong defence is standing Leeds Rhinos in good stead.
Though Rhinos have won three of their opening four Betfred Super League fixtures, which is a better record than last year when they finished second in the table and went on to win their eighth title, the matches are about to get tougher.
The 20-16 victory over Hull three days ago was the first time Leeds have faced a team from last year’s top-four, having previously beaten Warrington Wolves and promoted Hull KR and lost to 2017 wooden-spoonists Widnes Vikings, but they travel to current table-toppers St Helens on Friday and take on Castleford Tigers in a Grand Final rematch at Elland Road a week later.
Ablett admits Leeds will need to be better with ball in hand than they were against Hull, but believes they will have a chance in any game if they continue to defend the way they have been doing.
“It’s a good sign early in the season when you can put in a defensive effort like that,” said the second-rower.
“Come the back end of the year it’s defensive efforts that win you trophies. We have got loads to improve on in offense, but in the second half it felt like they were camped on our tryline and they did a lot with it – they didn’t just take five drives.
“They really chanced their arm.
“They threw a lot at us and created some opportunities, but we scrambled really well.
“That desire and commitment to defend our tryline is going to stand us in good stead.”
Ablett added: “Everybody knows it is a long season and we are just looking to build.
“Nobody will be playing their best rugby yet.
“The defensive stuff is the big indicator and we have shown some toughness there.
“I’m sure as the weather gets a bit warmer and grounds firm up, hopefully we will get better with the ball.
“I don’t think we are sustaining enough pressure and challenging teams enough at the minute, but we will have a few more sessions working on that and once we get a good mix between our D [defence] and our offense we will rack up a few points.”
The back-to-back meetings with Saints and Tigers will be a huge test for Rhinos, who still have several key players unavailable through injury, but Ablett insisted: “We just look at the next game.
“That is important. We’ll review this one [the Hull game] and there’s some good lessons for us to learn about how we control a game.
“Our focus now is reviewing that and getting ready for a really good St Helens team.
“We will probably have to be a lot better against them, but it is going to be a good challenge for us.”
The win over Hull was a comeback match for Ablett after he missed Rhinos’ 23-6 defeat at Widnes two weeks ago, due to a groin injury.
There was no fixture the following weekend due to the bad weather and he said: “It felt like a long time between games.
“I put my hand up to play last week [against Catalans Dragons], but that got postponed and it was probably a blessing it got called off. I was able to get a few more sessions and make sure I was all right.
“I don’t like missing games so it was good to get back out there with the lads.”
Of the injury, Ablett said: “I did it against Hull KR [a month ago].
“Then we travelled to Australia and obviously the travel wasn’t great for it and then we had a really tough game out there.
“That was played at a decent intensity and with the travel back, it just needed a week off.
“The physio’ staff have looked after me and I felt pretty good on Friday.”