BOSS BRIAN McDermott wants Leeds Rhinos to think about the upcoming Tetley’s Challenge Cup semi-final as they prepare for tonight’s home derby against Bradford Bulls.
Rhinos take on Challenge Cup bogey team Warrington Wolves a week tomorrow and McDermott insisted his players need to have that task very much in their thoughts.
Fellow semi-finalists Castleford Tigers have taken a contrasting approach, stressing they will deal with Sunday’s visit of London Broncos before thinking about next weekend’s showdown with Widnes Vikings.
But of his own team’s preparations, McDermott stressed: “I think we are looking ahead towards the semi-final and I don’t think there’s a danger in doing that.
“It doesn’t mean we are taking our eyes off the Bradford game. We want to play well against Bradford for that reason.
“We aren’t going to say ‘we’re not thinking about the semi-final and we’ll just solely focus on Bradford and after that we’ll then turn our attention towards Warrington’.
“That would be unrealistic. We have got a game of rugby league against one of our arch-rivals and I am not bothered where they are – whether they are in the Championship, Super League, relegated or top of the tree.
“They will raise their game. That’s the nature of the derby, but we want to be in good nick and in good shape leading into the semi.
“Of course it is on our minds, but in actual fact that will give us more incentive to play well. It is certainly not going to be a distraction.”
Bulls were doomed to relegation almost two weeks ago, when they suffered a 52-26 drubbing at Huddersfield Giants.
That was their fifth straight defeat under new boss James Lowes, McDermott’s former assistant who quit his post as Leeds Carnegie rugby union coach to return to the club where he made his name as a player.
But Lowes got off the mark with a stunning 16-8 home win over champions Wigan Warriors five days ago and McDermott
said that was a warning to Leeds ahead of tonight’s clash.
“It would have taken Jimmy some time,” McDermott said. “It is just a shame the influence he is clearly having has come a week or two too late.
“He was given an almost impossible task to start with, keeping them up, but he has obviously done something special there so they are in a place where they can beat a very good team like Wigan.”
Lowes said he is looking forward to tonight’s reunion with his former boss.
“We had a great relationship as coaches and players and it’s always good to meet up with people like that,” he said of tonight’s return to his former stomping ground.
“Brian and I have similar ideas and I think that’s borne out from our time together at Bradford.
“There were no major disputes or big arguments, which you probably find quite surprising because we are two stubborn blokes really.
“We’ve got the same philosophies on not only the game, but players as well.”
Lowes added: “It’s good going there on the back of a win. The performance last week was good.
“The challenge is to do that week in and week out against very good opposition, this week away from home. It’ll be tough to show the same amount of energy, but that’s what it is about.
“Their attitude is good and, touch wood, hopefully they will have plenty of energy to put up a good performance again.
“If you’re off your game for one second, Leeds have got that bit of strike that can get you, but hopefully we’ve conserved enough energy to give them a good game.”
Rhinos under-19s take on Bulls in a curtain-raiser this afternoon (5.30pm).
Leeds Rhinos from: Hardaker, Briscoe, Sutcliffe, Jones-Bishop, Handley, McGuire, Burrow, Leuluai, Aiton, Singleton, Jones-Buchanan, Walters, Delaney, Minchella, S Ward, Bailey, Kirke, Achurch, R Ward.
Bradford Bulls from: Addy, Arundel, Baldwinson, Blythe, Conroy, Donaldson, Fakir, Ferguson, Gale, Gaskell, Henry, Kear, Manuokafoa, Mellor, O’Brien, Olbison, Pitts, Sidlow, Williams.
Referee: Tim Roby (Preston).
A place in the semi-finals of the National Conference Challenge Trophy will be up for grabs when top-flight East Leeds visit Division One outfit Normanton Knights tomorrow.
Easts’ spokesman Malcolm Waite said: “We have got no new injuries, so coach Peter Clarkson is picking from strength.
“We’ve got two lads – Jake Normington and Ben Walkin – selected for England Lions and that has given the lads a real lift as well.”