ACTING-CAPTAIN STEVIE Ward admits Leeds Rhinos can’t afford to slip up against Huddersfield Giants tonight.
Rhinos’ three-game losing run in Betfred Super League is their worst for two years and has left the injury-hit champions five points adrift of the top-four.
Giants are eighth, a place and four points behind Rhinos and fighting to avoid being dragged into the middle-eights Qualifiers after round 23.
But a Huddersfield win would leave Leeds glancing anxiously over their shoulders and Ward admitted: “It’s important, we need the points.”
The West Yorkshire derby is the first of three successive home games for Rhinos and Ward stressed: “It would be nice to win some games and get that momentum back. It would also be nice to get some players back into the side, but there’s bits of our performance we want to improve on as well.
“That’s the nuts and bolts of it, to get some points in the short-term, but also to improve week on week, get better and build some momentum too.
“It is important we win and important we perform.
“We don’t consider anything else really, we want to show up and put a performance in.”
Injuries and suspensions have made Rhinos’ job tougher, but Ward said they “have to” cope with the latest disruption.
Liam Sutcliffe and Mitch Garbutt are set to return from long absences and Jack Ormondroyd and Brett Delaney are also back in contention, but injured duo Jimmy Keinhorst and Carl Ablett and the suspended Anthony Mullally drop out from the team which beat Leigh Centurions in the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup a week ago.
Asked if he thinks Rhinos can cope with their lengthy casualty list, Ward stressed: “There’s no choice.
“We want to prosper, we want to beat teams and perform and really build some momentum and a platform to go from over the next coming weeks.
“We have every motivation to get the job done. Huddersfield are a good side and they always come to Headingley really pumped up.
“We have got to be prepared for that.”
Rhinos’ only wins in their last five games have been Cup victories against Widnes Vikings – who are bottom of Super League – and Betfred Championship outfit Leigh.
Last Friday’s 52-22 victory came after Leigh had a player sent-off inside the opening 10 minutes, but Ward insisted Leeds’ performance has given them something to build on.
“We had it tough as well,” he said. “We had three people out of the game and we were juggling substitutions and had some boys staying on longer than planned.
“That is only building for the future. It’s good for the young boys in the team to stick in with it and go through the process and do it a bit tougher than normal.
“Leigh provided stiff opposition and I think we were good to stick to the game plan and be unwavering in that manner.”