LEEDS RHINOS have put a focus on fitness as they prepare for Saturday’s huge home showdown with Hull KR in the Betfred Qualifiers, forward Josh Walters says.
Rhinos are second in the table after victories in their opening two games, but faded alarmingly against London Broncos last time out, hanging on to win 48-32 after leading by 38 points on the hour mark.
Walters insisted they are aware of the importance of this weekend’s clash and determined to avoid another late collapse in their first Qualifiers fixture against Super League opponents.
Rhinos had no game last weekend and Walters said: “If we win this we are in a good position and if we lose we’re sort of looking over our shoulders a bit. We came in on Monday and blew some cobwebs off and we trained really hard [yesterday].
“We are scoring a lot of points, but conceding a lot as well. We are working hard on our fitness and being able to keep playing at a higher standard the more tired we get.
“It comes down to concentration at times and when you get tired concentration is the first thing to go. We have been working hard on that since Kev [Sinfield] came in.
“I don’t think we’ve been terrible all year, but there’s been big spells in games when we’ve got tired and other teams have performed better than we have. Parts of that are still showing, but luckily now we are doing enough – or we have done for the last few weeks – to be winning.”
Saturday’s game will be Rhinos’ eighth since coach Brian McDermott was sacked and Sinfield returned to the club as director of rugby.
“Obviously it was strange with Mac leaving,” Walters admitted.
“He is a great coach and he did so much here. It was all I’ve known and all a lot of the other lads have known while they’ve been here.
“It is a big change, but Kev knows a lot of us and Jimmy [Lowes, Rhinos’ first-team coach] has been here this season and around it. We are progressing and we are looking forward instead of behind us. We can’t do anything about that, all we can do is work hard during the week and hopefully get the win on the weekend.”
Walters’ existing contract expires at the end of this season and a new deal has yet to be announced.
He said he has a “slight idea” of where his future lies, but stressed: “When it’s time to talk about that it’ll all come out, but at the moment I’m only thinking about the next few games.
“We are in a pretty precarious position at the minute. We’ve had a good start to the middle-eights, but we need to keep that up and I want to get back into the team.”
The former Yorkshire Carnegie rugby union player made his Rhinos debut in 2014 and scored the crucial try in Leeds’ Grand Final win over Wigan Warriors the following year.
He made nine appearances in his first season, 11 in 2015 and 13 in 2016, but played only eight games for Leeds last year and was demoted down the squad list from 21 to 30. He has featured 17 times this season, but has not been included in Rhinos’ side for either of their opening two fixtures in the Qualifiers.
“It has been frustrating,” he said of his stop-start campaign. “But at the same time I’ve played the most I’ve ever played in a season while I’ve been here.
“You’ve just got to enjoy it while you can; it might not be around forever. Obviously I want to play every week, but I’ve got good players around me and good players I’m competing with.”