SUPER LEAGUE’S 10-month season makes it hard for players based here to compete at international level, Leeds Rhinos front-rower Brad Singleton fears.
Tonight’s visit of Salford Red Devils will be Rhinos’ 33rd competitive game of the year, with up to three more still to play.
The Super League season began on February 9 and has included two double weekends, when teams have played on a Monday after a Thursday or Friday game.
By contrast, Australia’s NRL kicked off at the start of March and included only 24 rounds, with no knock-out competition, before the play-offs.
Rhinos’ 24th competitive game of the year was away to tonight’s opponents on July 9.
Singleton has made 25 appearance for Leeds this term and his season will carry on into the autumn when he represents Ireland in the World Cup.
Rhinos currently have a relatively healthy squad, but Singleton admitted nobody is fully fit at this stage of the campaign and wear and tear will take its toll during the global tournament which begins next month and ends with a final in Brisbane on December 2.
“Everyone has got a niggle,” he said. “Some are more serious than others.
“Some of us are just getting themselves right for that 80 minutes at the end of the week.
“We started earlier than the NRL and we finish after them.
“Throw cup football in there and I think they have three byes a year. There might be something in that, why our international boys under-perform against the Aussies.”
Singleton added: “The boys who are good enough to play in the Grand Final have got an extra game there and they say every game matters – I think the games have got a bit more physical.
“Add in the extra games we play [compared to the NRL] – and we do it in the cold! It is for wiser people than me to work out, but I think it’s obvious when I hear Matt Parcell saying they have three byes through each year.
“Overall, I think it needs to be looked at.”
Rhinos will finish second in the Betfred Super-8s whatever happens against Salford tonight and at Huddersfield Giants next Friday.
But Singleton insisted, with a semi-final looming in 14 days’ time and possibly a Grand Final appearance after that, the last two league games are far from meaningless.
Leeds’ aim is to bounce back from last week’s disappointing 38-24 loss at league leaders Castleford Tigers and develop some good form for the knockout ties to come.
Rhinos were 30-6 down at half-time last week and Singleton admitted the second half gave them something to build on for tonight.
“There were bits to pick up from, but it is frustrating,” Singleton said.
“Against Castleford I don’t think we have done ourselves any justice because every time we’ve played them we’ve always under-performed.
“They are a good team and if you are going to go there and under-perform you aren’t going to scrape a win.
“We never gave ourselves a chance – the way Luke Gale managed that Cas team with his kicks and whatnot and we made some borderline comical knock-ons at times.
“We haven’t given a fair account of ourselves against them.
“If we do meet them in the final it would be interesting and if that’s the case hopefully we’d do ourselves justice the fifth time around.
“Last week was very frustrating, but now our thoughts are on to the next two games and then the semi-final.
“We need to approach the next two weeks like we are getting ready for finals football. We have got to get ourselves into some sort of form and gain some confidence and just lay a platform down for the semi-final.
“If we end up having two good games we will be mentally and physically flying.”
Singleton, who played in Leeds’ 2015 Grand Final win over Wigan Warriors, said momentum is crucial at this stage of the year so Rhinos can’t afford to switch off.
“It will be very rare you will see a team under-perform for a month and then go and win the Grand Final,” he said.
“I think it is more like the old structure now where this is basically play-offs and we all have to be on the money from now on.”
Rhinos’ last two fixtures are against the lowest-ranked teams in the Super-8s table, but Singleton insisted they will be battle-hardened going into their home semi-final, against the team finishing third.
“It is all about what we can do and what we are capable of,” he stated.
“This year we have been there and been really good a few times.
“Salford away was the last time we were really good offensively and that’s what we’ve got to plan on doing [tonight]. Then we’ve got Huddersfield and obviously they are a bit of a bogey team so that will be a tough game in itself.
“We are very aware of the quality of Salford and Huddersfield, but realistically everyone knows the picture now.
“We have had a big, long year and we know when we are good and when we’re bad.
“We were bad last week so we just need to get it right and be good against Salford.”