RELEGATION-THREATENED CHAMPIONS Leeds Rhinos are in “good shape” boss Brian McDermott says.
Last Sunday’s 23-22 home loss to Widnes Vikings – their 17th in 22 competitive matches this season – ended Rhinos’ hopes of a top-eight finish and confirmed they will drop to the Qualifiers for the final third of the campaign.
With three games remaining in the regular season Rhinos, who face leaders Hull and second-placed Wigan Warriors in their next two matches, are two points adrift at the foot of the table.
It has been a spectacular fall from grace by last year’s treble-winners, who now face a fight to retain their place in First Utility Super League next season, but despite that, McDermott is approaching the rest of the campaign in an upbeat mood.
“Everybody speaks to me like I’ve got a long-term illness and they are speaking to the squad like we’ve been given six weeks to live,” he said.
“It is not great what’s happening, but – I don’t think I am contradicting anything I’ve said all year – we are in good shape.
“There’s things that have happened to us this year, some things we could have done better and some things we will learn from and we will get better at, but there are other things that have happened we have absolutely no control over.
“We will go through and review it, but at the end of it we are in good shape. The players are keen, they are pumped and on board.
“To go through what we have gone through and to have the heartache we have had this year and everybody is still together, everybody still believes and everybody is still part of a really strong group; that in itself I think is an achievement.”
McDermott added: “We find ourselves in this situation, we have got a task in front of us now, finishing off the regular season and going into these middle-eights and we will be good.”
McDermott was due to name his initial 19-man squad for Friday’s game this afternoon. He said long-term casualty Tom Briscoe will not feature, but could be available for the visit of Wigan. Stevie Ward, who has not played since suffering a knee injury in the final game of last year’s Super-8s, is also close to making his comeback and McDermott is hopeful Rhinos will be at full-strength for the Qualifiers.