Rock solid: Back-rower chris clarkson says Leeds Rhinos must now build on their successful start to the season. Peter Smith reports.
“It’s going well,” Clarkson said of Rhinos’ best opening to a campaign since 2009. “We feel pretty controlled at the moment, everything is working out for us. We’ve won three games out of three and now we just need to keep it going, keep the ball rolling and go into the next round against Huddersfield all guns blazing.”
Leeds’ three opponents so far, Hull KR, Warrington and Catalan Dragons, were all in the play-offs last year, but Friday’s game is a big one.
Giants were the 2013 league leaders and have beaten Rhinos in the teams’ last five meetings, including three times last year.
“We know how they play,” Clarkson observed. “They play very tough and strong and it will be a big game for us and one we need to win.
“Every time they’ve played us in the last few years they’ve done a job on us and it’d be nice to get the win and keep going the way we are doing.
“In round 10 I think we’ll look back at the Catalan game and the Huddersfield game and say that was a big part of our season.”
Rhinos are one of only three teams – along with leaders St Helens and second-placed Castleford Tigers – to boast a 100 per cent winning record from the opening three rounds. Widnes Vikings have won two out of two.
Clarkson added: “We need to keep doing what we are doing and keep training hard. What we did in pre-season is working for us, we have changed a few things from last year and it is working for us. We are feeling pretty good.”
But as Rhinos proved in 2011 and 2012, when they won the title from fifth place on the league table, under the current structure it is not how you start the year that counts.
Like most teams, Rhinos feel they still have much more to come, according to Clarkson. “We don’t feel as though we are on top of our game just yet, but we will be in a few weeks,” he predicted.
“I don’t know about a lot, but there’s still some improvement there from everybody in the whole team. It would be really good to do that in the next few rounds.”
Rhinos often struggle in Perpignan, where they won 40-12 three days ago. It looked like being a battle when Catalan Dragons came out firing and took a deserved early lead, but – like against Warrington Wolves the week before – Rhinos worked their way back into the contest and took control before half-time.
“It is always a tough game when we go to Catalan,” Clarkson admitted. “They are a big, tough side. They had a few players out, but the first 15-20 minutes they were giving us it and it was pretty tough.
“It could have been even tougher if we hadn’t stayed with them. They could have turned us over quite easily. That’s the tenacity we’ve got at the minute and the intensity we’re playing with.”
On a personal note, Clarkson is happy with the way things are going this year after playing in all three of Leeds’ opening games. He burst on to the scene in 2010 and was a regular starter the following year, but has been in and out the first 13 in the seasons since.
“I am feeling good, feeling pretty strong at the moment,” he said. “Hopefully I can keep that going.
“I think this is a big year for me, but they all are. But I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself, I just want to play each game as it comes and concentrate on what I’m doing.
“My aim is just to play every game week-in and week-out and just improve my game personally and help the team out the best I can. I am feeling stronger than I was this time last year and hopefully I can put a marker down. I had a full pre-season and did a lot of work on weights, speed and fitness.”
Clarkson scored in all his pre-season appearances, but has yet to cross the whitewash since the real business started.
“They don’t seem to be passing to me near the line, but I’ll be looking to get a few more,” he said.
“The backs are really going well at the moment, we’ve got two centres and two wingers who are outstanding and very hard to pull down. The forwards are working hard in the middle and the backs are finishing it off, so it’s good.”
Meanwhile, Clarkson is also looking forward to another game, not involving Rhinos.
His former amateur club East Leeds, where his father Peter is the first-team coach, were drawn away to Sheffield Eagles in the Tetley’s Challenge Cup third round later this month.
“I will be going over to watch,” Clarkson said of the clash with the club where his former Leeds team-mate Keith Senior is assistant-coach.
“It will generate a bit of money for the club and it’ll be a good experience for the lads.
“The banter with Keith has already started.”