IT’S WIN or bust for Leeds Rhinos against visitors Widnes Vikings tonight and even that might not be enough.
Rhinos’ Betfred Super League top-eight hopes rest on them beating bottom club Widnes and winning at 11th-placed Salford Red Devils in a week’s time, plus at least one of the teams three points above them losing their two remaining fixtures.
Eighth-placed Huddersfield Giants visit Castleford Tigers tonight and play host to Wakefield Trinity next Friday, Catalans Dragons are at home to Salford tomorrow and complete their campaign at Wigan Warriors and Trinity entertain Hull on Sunday before the finale at Giants.
If Giants and Wakefield lose this weekend and Rhinos win, their fate will be back in their own hands with them one point behind both of their Yorkshire rivals and a better for-and-against than Huddersfield.
Rhinos winger Tom Briscoe said: “Looking at the league we need four points from the last two games and it’s still out of our hands.
“We need to do our part and hope that, with a bit of luck, we scrape in there.”
Looking at the league we need four points from the last two games and it’s still out of our hands.Tom Briscoe
A 20-20 draw with Wakefield last week ended Rhinos’ eight-game losing run and Briscoe insisted: “On our side it is definitely do-able. I felt like we made a massive step forward for the majority of last week’s game, but – yet again – with a few silly penalties and taking our foot off the gas a bit at the wrong time, it just turned and we weren’t able to stop that.
“But on the whole I thought we were a lot better in defence, attitude-wise. If we can carry that into this week and improve in a few areas we’ll do all right.”
Last week was the third time in their last five games Rhinos have failed to win after leading inside the final quarter. Briscoe admitted: “That’s frustrating and so is how many games we’ve drawn or lost by a point or two this season.
“If one of those had turned our way we’d be in a bit better position, but we need to learn from these experiences and learn how to handle games at the end. We need to take that into the next couple of weeks leading into the [Ladbrokes Challenge Cup] semi-final.”
Briscoe conceded it is hard to identify what is going wrong when Rhinos get into what should be a match-winning lead.
“It’s maybe a bit of experience, not knowing how to handle that with a young team, he said. “But hopefully the experience of this year and how many tight games we’ve had this year will help us in the future.”
The middle-eights are set to be much tougher this year than in 2016. If they finish in the bottom-four Rhinos will be joined in the Qualifiers by Super League sides Hull KR, Salford and Widnes, plus Toronto Wolfpack, Toulouse Olympique and two from Featherstone Rovers, London Broncos, Halifax and Leigh Centurions out of the Betfred Championship.
“We’re not looking at that,” Briscoe stressed.
“We are totally focused on us. We know we need two wins from the last two games, but other than that we are concentrating on ourselves.
“We’ve got the semi-final after that and we want to do our part and hopefully get into the Super-8s, but with a bit of an eye on going into the semi-final with some momentum.”
Wins in their next three games would put a different spin on the rest of the year. Briscoe said: “It would definitely take some pressure off and we could enjoy the last half of the season. Fingers crossed we do our part and a couple of teams help us out.”
Tonight will be Rhinos’ third game since Brian McDermott was sacked and Kevin Sinfield returned to the club as director of rugby with James Lowes becoming first-team coach.
“It has all been little things,” Briscoe said of the changes made so far.
“I suppose at this time of the year you can’t go changing whole systems and the whole squad.
“We’re just changing the small things and I think that’s all we’ve needed.
“We’ve only been short by a couple of points in a lot of games so the little things might turn those close games into wins.”
In a tough year, Briscoe’s strong form has been a positive for Leeds.
He said: “Personally I’m happy with where I am.
“I’ve got my contract sorted and I am back to enjoying playing. That helps, there’s a bit of pressure to play well to try and earn your next contract so to have that weight lifted off is nice.”