LEEDS RHINOS star Danny McGuire says no side can afford a slow start when Super League starts again in 2015 as the new competition structure will be merciless.
His side have twice won the Grand Final from as low as fifth but the half-back believes that will be tougher when the next campaign gets underway.
With Super League reduced to 12 teams and the top eight splitting into its own competition after 23 rounds, there is no room for easing your way in.
“I think the new look will be good but you can’t afford a slow start,” said McGuire.
“You can’t afford to build up and then have a big finish as you need to be in the top four preferably to get the more home games when the eight comes to split.
“When you read the Tweets from all the players everyone’s training hard to make sure they get that crucial start; you can’t just be finding your feet and hitting your straps in July as it’ll be too late then.
“It’s going to be a tough competition next year and so we will have to open very well.
“We’ve got Hull KR first and they are making some noises, Catalan have signed well and finished the season well this year while Wigan, Warrington, St Helens, Huddersfield will all be strong again, too.”
Leeds won 10 of their opening 12 league games this season but were unable to maintain that momentum, losing their last five to finish sixth and then being dumped out of the play-offs at the first hurdle at home to Catalan.
“We started really well last season and fizzled out at the back end,” added McGuire.
“The Challenge Cup probably took a lot out of us without really noticing it. It will be important we start well but we’ve a great team behind us – conditioners and physio guys – who make sure we have plenty in the tank in the end.
“I sort of see the year as two separate seasons now – you go for your 23 rounds and then it’s almost different again when you go for that eight .
“If you can get a good start in both it sets a platform for hopefully being successful.”
Experienced props Ryan Bailey and Ian Kirke – 11 Grand Final winners medals between them with Rhinos alone – have moved on to Hull KR and Wakefield Trinity respectively while England Knights winger/full-back Ben Jones-Bishop is now at Salford Red Devils and second-row Chris Clarkson has joined Widnes Vikings on a season-long loan.
The only recruit is front-row Adam Cuthbertson from NRL side Newcastle Knights and McGuire revealed: “Everybody’s asking me why aren’t we signing this player or that or loads of them?
“Everywhere I go it’s the first question people ask.
“But I think we’ve got continuity, good addition in Cuthbo coming in strengthening the pack and, also, that it’s a big year for some of our younger players really stepping up to the mark now and showing they are ready to play.
“People who have been around the first team a few years – Brad Singleton, Stevie Ward, Liam Sutcliffe – I think those three will be really, really good for us.
“I have been really impressed with them in training.
“It’s important they improve, become more established and more senior players next year.
“You can’t beat experience but there’s some pressure coming through from the younger lads, too. It’ll be a good mix.”