MITCH GARBUTT admits Leeds Rhinos are heading into the unknown now they know they will be in the dreaded Qualifiers.
The Super League champions must scrap it out with, among others, four Championship sides in the next phase of the season. Yesterday’s 23-22 defeat against Widnes Vikings left them mathematically unable to make the top-eight.
Leeds, bottom of the table, have known that fate was likely for some time.
But, after Joe Mellor’s 79th minute drop goal sealed another loss, Aussie prop Garbutt admitted: “It’s disappointing isn’t it?
“We were all right today but a few things let us down, they scored some tries and got that drop goal through a penalty.
“It was a bad day for us unfortunately and we’ll be in the Middle-8s now.
“The biggest thing we can do now is aim to keep improving and make sure we go into that competition in good form.
“To be honest, we don’t know what to expect aside from tough games; they’ll be out to make a big impression as everyone’s fighting for their livelihood there.
“The Championship sides are good teams. Leigh have performed well all year, London have performed well and they’re probably smelling blood so we have to be on our A game.”
Leeds had led 22-10 at one point yesterday and looked capable of pushing on and securing a third successive win to keep their escape hopes alive.
Widnes levelled it up but Rhinos thought they should have had a penalty in front of the posts moments before Mellor’s winner after a couple of blatant infringements.
Garbutt, 27, admitted: “We were unlucky there.
“It was one of those where probably earlier on in the game they would have been penalties but – at that time in the game – maybe not.
“It’s the game isn’t it? You have to move on from that and look for other ways to get points.
“Unfortunately, Widnes did that and got the win but we were unlucky.”
Next up, Leeds head to leaders Hull FC on Friday as they countdown their final three fixtures before the Qualifiers begin
“It doesn’t get any easier does it,” said Garbutt, facing a side who lost for the first time in 11 games when falling at Huddersfield last Thursday.
“We’re looking forward to that; it’s a big game that will test us and we probably need those sorts of matches going into the ‘Eights’.
“We will have to be playing good footy to get those wins.”