SQUAD STRENGTH is the key to getting through the season’s second bank holiday double-header, according to Leeds Rhinos’ England winger Ryan Hall.
Most Betfred Super League teams are facing three games inside two weekends, less than two months after a similar schedule over Easter.
After tonight’s visit of Warrington Wolves, Rhinos are away to Widnes Vikings on Monday and back up four days later at home against Leigh Centurions.
Sides normally play only one fixture during the spring bank holiday weekend and the change of policy is a huge test for weary players midway through the season.
But Hall reckons Rhinos, who, along with Leigh, face the most crowded schedule, are up for the challenge and he insisted there are “pros and cons” to the controversial fixture list.
“There tends to be quite a few injuries picked up around Easter, not just by us but by teams across the league,” Hall said ahead of tonight’s crucial clash. For the guys in the middle it is a bit harder, but I think it’s interesting and it is good in a way because it gets to test your squad.
“You can’t play full-strength, full-strength, full-strength. You’ve got to play the players from outside the 17.
“That’s what you’ve got a squad for – at the start of the year you don’t just have 17 players, you have a full squad.
“We tend to cope all right with it, we always seem to do well over Easter periods and, hopefully, we can test our squad this time and come out with more points.
“We got maximum points from the Easter period this year and I think we were quite impressive.
“We had to go to Hull and we got a good win there, then we beat Widnes on Easter Monday. It is how your coaching staff and your backroom staff manage it.
“I’d like to say we’ve got some of the best and the most experienced who manage it really well.
“They’ve been through these periods quite a few times and they know what to do and, hopefully, they can guide us through it again.”
Playing three games in eight days is a physical test, but Hall reckons the mental aspect is as – if not more – important.
He added: “That’s half the battle, if you can tell your body it’s not hurting, it’s not.
“If you ever listened to JP [former Rhinos star Jamie Peacock], that’s what he told himself every day of the week.
“Your mind’s your strongest thing and once you’ve got that right you’ve cracked it. You are physically tired, but you’ve just got to tell yourself you’re not.
“And that’s where the backroom staff come in because you need external prompting that way as well.”
As an outside-back, Hall admits he does not have it as tough as the forwards who are in the thick of the battle throughout.
He said: “Playing on the wing it is not as bad as what some of the guys in the middle are experiencing, just because you do hardly any tackles compared to them and the tackling is what gets you.
“That is the hardest part of it. As a winger I am happy to do these periods because I know I can sustain it.”
With a tough schedule ahead of them, Leeds need to be smart in how they go about tonight’s game.
Rhinos went in all square at the break against Castleford Tigers last Sunday, but errors in the third period put them on the back foot and they slumped to a 29-18 defeat.
“The first game is important,” Hall stressed of the fixture pile-up.
“You need to be efficient, you don’t want to be giving away too much possession – you don’t want to be poor in the first game because it sets you back for the second.
“I think we did that well last time so, hopefully, we can play well against Warrington and be efficient in what we do and have some energy left over for Widnes.”
Last Sunday’s defeat has put extra pressure on tonight’s match as Rhinos battle to hold on to a place in the top-four.
Hall felt they played well for most of the clash with table-topping Tigers, but let themselves down immediately after the interval.
“I thought we pressed self-destruct,” Hall said.
“We knew what not to do and we went out and did it. Castleford are very good at scoring points when you give them the ball and we did that.
“We came out and knocked on in our half quite often and they got on our line. We gave them field position and they took full advantage of it.
“They had to be good to score the tries, which they were and they are. We knew how not to do it and we did and that’s what I was disappointed about.
“But if you look at the rest of the game, for 60 minutes I thought we were really good. I thought we looked like a champion side.
“On the scoreboard it was six-all at half-time, but I think in the physical battle we were winning.”
Leeds Rhinos: from Golding, Briscoe, Watkins, Moon, Hall, McGuire, Burrow, Parcell, Cuthbertson, Jones-Buchanan, Ward, L Sutcliffe, Delaney, Singleton, Garbutt, Ferres, Mullally, Handley, Baldwinson.
Warrington Wolves: from Atkins, Brown, Clark, Cooper, Crosby, Dwyer, Gidley, Hill, Hughes, Jullien, G King, Lineham, Patton, Philbin, Ratchford, Russell, Savelio, Sims, Westerman.
Referee: James Child (Batley).
Kick-off: Tonight, 8pm.