LEEDS RHINOS are free to concentrate on their fight against relegation after a traumatic exit from the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup. Here are five talking points from the 48-12 semi-final defeat to Warrington Wolves.
1: The semi-final could not have gone much worse. Rhinos lost heavily, played poorly and picked up three injuries. As director of rugby Kevin Sinfield said, they are going into the Qualifiers with no momentum and rival teams will fancy their chances against them. There is no fear factor about playing Rhinos and opposing sides know if they get on top, Leeds’ heads will drop. A couple of decent wins could turn things around, but the way things are even Saturday’s home game against Toulouse Olympique looks far from a sure thing.
2: The next seven games are the most important for Leeds since summer rugby began in 1996. Rhinos are in serious danger of dropping into the Championship next year, or at least having to win the one-off million pound match to survive. One victory in their last nine matches and only two from their past 13 against Super League opposition is relegation form. Both those successes were against Widnes Vikings who have strengthened and will have home advantage in what will be a crucial middle-eights fixture.
3: That said, Rhinos have seven games to save their skins – against the bottom three in Super League and four second-tier teams. If they can’t finish at least third in the mini-table they’ll deserve to go down. It is still in Rhinos’ hands and the players need to take responsibility and raise their standards to the level they are capable of. Eleven of the team beaten by Warrington played in last year’s Grand-Final triumph so they have it in the locker.
4: But if Rhinos do survive the club will need to recruit otherwise they will be in a similar situation next year. The only way to get better is by signing better players.
5: Adam Cuthbertson was one of Leeds’ better players in the semi-final the day after masterminding Rhinos’ Women’s Challenge Cup triumph. He could have a long-term future in coaching when he hangs up his boots.