FADING LEEDS Rhinos need a rapid improvement to keep their title hopes alive, says winger Ryan Hall.
Rhinos were knocked-off top spot in First Utility Super League last night when St Helens, who had been a point behind, beat arch-rivals Wigan 30-14.
That came a day after Rhinos slumped to a 31-24 home defeat by fast-improving Castleford Tigers.
Leeds were six points clear when they thrashed Saints 41-16 at Langtree Park in April, but since then they have won only two of seven matches in the competition, with one draw and four defeats. With Saints and Wigan still to play, pole position at the end of the weekly rounds remains in Rhinos’ hands, but Hall admitted: “You have to be the best side to be at the top and I don’t think we are the best side in the competition at the moment.”
Poor form now will have a bearing on Rhinos’ chances of reaching the Grand Final as points earned in the first 23 rounds carry over into the Super-8s.
That is a new seven-game league which will see Super League’s top-eight play each other once to decide the four teams which go into knockout semi-finals for a place at Old Trafford.
Rhinos still look favourites to finish the regular campaign in the top-four, which will mean they play an extra home game in the Super-8s, but Hall conceded their current form is a concern.
“We’ve always got it in us to be a quality side,” said the England man, who was one of Leeds’ try scorers against Tigers.
“We’ve shown aspects of it here and there, but to be a championship-winning side you have to do it for 80 minutes most weeks – and we’ve not done that for quite a while now.”
After going 18-0 down to Cas in the first quarter, Leeds hit back to trail by only two points at the break and they were level with 10 minutes left, only for mistakes to hand the visitors an opportunity to secure the points.
Hall said: “We haven’t been very good for the last couple of weeks and it showed again.
“Cas are a quality side and they deserved the win.
“They did to us what they planned to do and we just let them do it.”
Rhinos have conceded the opening score in six of their last seven games and Hall admitted they need to start better.
“Going 18-0 down is not great, we gave ourselves a bit too much to do,” he reflected.
“We did it in great style at the back end of the first half to get within two points – a goal kick – away.
“We came in at half-time quite happy in the fact we had turned it around and had got back on the horse, but we just didn’t carry on where we left off in the second and Cas punished us.”
England coach Steve McNamara is tipping former Bradford Bulls player Elliott Whitehead to become the next Super League player to take the NRL by storm.
The 25-year-old second rower, who was given his England debut by McNamara in the 2014 Four Nations Series, will join a host of his international team-mates down under next season after signing a two-year deal with Canberra Raiders.
“I’ve had a chat with Elliott about his move and I think it’s good for him,” McNamara said.