LEEDS RHINOS will be starting again with a clean slate when they face Catalan Dragons in an elimination play-off on Saturday, second-rower Carl Ablett says.
Ablett admits Rhinos are still hurting from the 24-19 loss at Hull three days ago, when they squandered a 15-point lead in the final 18 minutes.
But he believes they have the experience and ability to step up a level when the must-win games begin this weekend.
Reflecting on the defeat at KC Stadium, Ablett said: “It was probably a bit uncharacteristic and really disappointing when you work hard to build up a lead and you don’t defend it.
“It was a funny old game, Hull had nothing to play for and a few players leaving and the crowd got behind them and we were just not good enough, not intense enough, towards the end of the game to put up a decent defensive display.
“It was disappointing, but we have got to look at the video and then have a big week.”
The loss at Hull was Rhinos’ fifth successive Super League defeat, but Ablett insisted: “We are starting a different competition now. It’s the play-offs and the intensity is probably going to go up. I am sure Catalan will be confident coming over here and it’ll be up to us to deal with that.
“There hasn’t been much in the defeats, I don’t think we’ve been blown off the park in the last five, but lapses in concentration have cost us and defensively we just haven’t been good enough.
“It is play-off football now and there’s no second chances, but we’ve got enough experience in this team to know what it takes to perform in games that matter. We know we can’t afford to lose.”
Ablett was one of the Leeds players who could leave KC Stadium with his head head high, after a fine all-round display. He produced one of the tackles of the season – a long-distance chase back – to deny Richard Horne a try on his final appearance before retirement and also scored Leeds’ opening try, his sixth in nine games away to Hull.
But Ablett admitted that meant nothing to him after Rhinos failed to come away with the points.
“It is part of my job,” he said of the tackle which denied Horne a fairytale playing farewell before he joins Hull’s coaching staff in pre-season.
“It is part of all our jobs to try and prevent the other team scoring tries. I was just in the right place at the right time.
“I was there and I was closest to him, so I chased him down, but it doesn’t mean anything now looking back.
“It is disappointing there were some soft tries in there that we conceded. We will have a look at that and get it out of the way and then we will be concentrating on Catalan.”
The touchdown was Ablett’s 11th of the season and he added: “I am trying! In the first half the error count was ridiculous at times. It was a nice, dry night, but the pitch was ridiculously wet and the ball.
“I don’t think that helped either team. It was really tough to keep hold of it and in contact the ball was popping out. It was really difficult to build some momentum in that first half, so I was really happy to go in with a lead at half-time.
“We needed to see the game out, but there were still too many errors and defensively we conceded some soft tries, which is not good enough.”
Leeds beat Catalan home and away in the regular rounds this year, but will have to defeat the French side for a third time this weekend and then win away to two teams who have finished above then this year if they are to reach OId Trafford.
Rhinos have beaten all the top-five this season, other than Huddersfield Giants and Ablett said that gives them confidence ahead of the play-offs.
“We have been playing some intense games and we haven’t been far off,” he said.
“I think we are experienced enough to know the intensity levels you need to get to and where you have to be to play in these knockout games.
“It will be about building this week up, not playing too early, but having a steady build-up, getting over this (Friday’s defeat) and looking forward to a sudden-death game on Sunday.”
Rhinos won the Challenge Cup this year, beating three top-five sides in the process and Ablett said they need to regain that form and mentality.
“We like to play knockout games,” he said. “It has been a strange last five weeks, losing two before Wembley and then winning the final and losing three afterwards. It’s not ideal, but there’s enough experience to know what we have to do and how we have to prepare this week to put in a performance.”
Meanwhile, Rhinos under-19s beat Hull 27-12 in an academy elimination play-off at Stanningley, with tries by Ash Handley, Dan Tai, Ashton Golding, Tommy Brierley and Jack Norfolk, plus three goals from Jordan Lilley and an Elliot Minchella one-pointer.
The date and venue for their next tie, against Wigan, was due to be confirmed today.