THE PRESSURE is on Leeds Rhinos following their first loss in eight games, Aussie forward Mitch Achurch says.
Rhinos’ advantage at the top of the table is down to just two points after they were beaten 32-18 by St Helens last Friday.
Second-placed Wigan Warriors will move level on points if they beat visitors Hull on Friday night, the day before Leeds take on Catalans Dragons in Perpignan.
Rhinos need one more win to guarantee a top-two finish and home tie in the semi-finals, but Achurch admitted their hopes of a first league leaders’ shield since 2009 are back in the balance.
“A loss was always going to put pressure on us, no matter what week it was,” Achurch conceded.
“St Helens are a good side and they wanted it a little bit more than us. You could tell in just about every tackle that they were up for it.
“Good luck to them, but the pressure’s on so we’ve just got to get back to training and get a few things right.”
Catalans are seventh in the First Utility Super-8s table and are out of the race for a play-off spot.
But they have lost just twice in Perpignan this year, to Leeds and Huddersfield Giants and Achurch insisted Rhinos are expecting a battle.
The team will make the return trip to the south of France on the day, as they did in March, when they recorded a 38-22 victory.
“We are used to doing that now, we’ve done it the last few times we’ve been there,” Achurch said.
“It is the way we prepare and I think if we changed now it would probably throw us off, so going there and back in the day is something we are ready for.”
But Achurch admitted Leeds need to go into Saturday’s game with a better attitude – and he said they can’t put last week’s defeat down simply to a post-Wembley hangover.
The loss to Saints came six days after Leeds hammered Hull KR 50-0 in the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup final and Achurch insisted: “You could say it was expected, but we have higher standards than that.
“I wouldn’t say it was a comfortable win, but the Cup final didn’t take a lot out of us physically. It was more emotionally.
“Physically we were ready to play on Friday, but in the second half we dropped off a bit and that was probably the emotion of it all.”
Meanwhile, Achurch is hoping for a strong finish to the season after finally making his big-game debut.
He was 18th man for last year’s Challenge Cup final, but got the nod on the bench this time, ahead of Jimmy Keinhorst.
Wembley was only his third game back after a three-month layoff due to a serious wrist injury and he said: “It was a goal of mine when I first got injured.
“The surgeons gave me no chance, but I thought if I did things they told me not to I might sneak my way back in.
“Unfortunately for Jimmy, it was down to me and him.
“I thought he deserved his place in the side and it was unfortunate he missed out, but luckily enough for me I got the shot, it was a good win and my first trophy.
“No regrets, I feel part of the crew now. Just about everyone in the team had won something apart from me and Brad Singleton. It is a good feeling.”