LEEDS RHINOS are geared up for a hostile reception when they visit the Jungle on Thursday night.
What is always a fiercely-fought encounter has taken on new importance with Tigers holding eighth spot in First Utility Super League, one place and a single point ahead of their neighbours.
Tigers are on a three-match losing streak, while Rhinos are looking to record a second successive victory and begin a run which could see them push up towards the top-four.
Castleford officials are hoping for a near full house to kick off the Easter schedule and stand-off Liam Sutcliffe said Rhinos know exactly what they will be getting themselves into.
“It is always a massive game, especially at their place,” said Sutcliffe, who produced an outstanding performance in Rhinos’ 26-12 win at the Jungle last year.
“It is always a hostile place to play, the crowd is right on top of you, so it is going to be a tough game.
“Even from when I was an amateur, Castleford has always been a tough place to go, so playing in a first-team game is another step up, but something I am really looking forward to.”
Rhinos’ win over St Helens last week was only their second in six league matches.
But after tomorrow they have home games against bottom club Wakefield Trinity Wildcats and then 10th-placed Hull KR, so Easter gives the champions an opportunity to establish themselves in the top-eight.
“We are just taking it game by game,” Sutcliffe insisted. “We are focusing on Cas at the moment and, hopefully, we can back up the win last week with another one on Thursday.
“Easter is always a massive period and you need to pick up as many points as you can, so hopefully we can do that.”
Rhinos are in upbeat mood following the win over Saints – which was the first time they had scored 30 points in a match since last August’s 50-0 Challenge Cup final rout of Hull KR.
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“There was a buzz after the game and the next day at training,” Sutcliffe confirmed. “Everyone’s full of confidence now and hopefully we can build on that win.
“We’ve not had the start we’d have liked, so confidence can be low, but hopefully now we can pick ourselves up and start performing well and getting some victories.”
Seven games into his return from a knee reconstruction, Sutcliffe reckons he is beginning to feed his feet.
“I’ve had a fair few games to get back into it,” he said. “I just want to improve week by week.
“Last Friday was a step forward personally from the Wigan game and hopefully I can keep building week by week and get to my best.”
Sutcliffe has yet to be part of a settled half-back combination, with both Rob Burrow and Jordan Lilley featuring at scrum-half since Danny McGuire’s injury in the opening game.
Sutcliffe said: “Hopefully Magsy will be back over Easter, but Jordan has done really well, he has been one of our top performers.
“Whoever plays on Thursday night, hopefully we can do a job and get the win.”
Sutcliffe will have the extra responsibility of taking kicks at goal, after landing five from six attempts against Saints.
“I’ve been doing some practice with Jordan and Zak [Hardaker] and [assistant-coach] Barry Eaton,” he said.
“I’ve been striking them really well in training and I was full of confidence going into last week’s game.
“I only missed one, which hit the post, which was very positive.”
McGuire was due to return from his knee injury last week, but missed out after straining a calf in training.
Briscoe has not played since damaging an ankle in Rhinos’ second game of the season, at Widnes.
Ryan Hall, who picked up an ankle injury last Friday and was wearing a protective boot at the start of the week, has been named but is a major doubt.
Jimmy Keinhorst could return from a calf problem, but there is no recall for Brad Singleton and Mitch Garbutt – who were omitted last week – and Lilley drops out.
Ben Roberts could return for Tigers after missing two games due to a foot injury.
Ryan Boyle, Lee Jewitt and Greg Minikin are all hoping for a call into the 17.
Frankie Mariano, who returned from a knee reconstruction in last week’s defeat at Warrington, drops out after taking a bang to the same limb and Matt Cook is suspended.
Luke Dorn, Michael Shenton, Oliver Holmes and Junior Moors all remain on the casualty list.