LEEDS RHINOS boss Brian McDermott has urged his side to prove they can handle life at Super League’s summit – and not ‘flake out’ again as they have done before.
Depending on other results, they could draw level with leaders Castleford Tigers at the top if they beat their West Yorkshire rivals in tomorrow’s final game of Magic Weekend.
Leeds have won five of their last six matches in all competitions to raise hopes they could challenge for the title once more after last year’ annus horribilis.
Castleford pose a formidable challenge – they score an average of almost 37 points per game in Super League and also boast the meanest defence – but McDermott is keen to see them met head-on. However, three weeks ago Rhinos had the chance to actually displace Daryl Powell’s side in pole position only to suffer a shock 31-12 home loss to bottom-placed Huddersfield Giants.
McDermott admitted it would be a good sign of how well his side are progressing if they can this time flourish.
“It would be if we do that,” he said.
“The last time we had chance to go top – or probably the best description is ‘touched top’ because if we’d have beaten Huddersfield we’d have touched top spot for 24 or 48 hours – we weren’t ready for it.
“We didn’t take it and we messed about and that’s with respect to Huddersfield. That tells me we weren’t ready for top spot, so let’s hope we’re good enough to be top spot now.
“We don’t have to be good enough yet and we don’t have to be good enough mid-season.
“But you need to have touched top, or threatened top or handled those moments so you know you’ve got that steel come the back end of the year.
“If every time you get near top spot you flake out, I don’t know what that does to you at the end of the year.”
The last time the sides met, of course, Castleford embarrassed Leeds 66-10 in early March.
McDermott feels his squad is in a better place now in readiness for this latest challenge but added: “We’ll find out.
“It’s a test for us to find where we’re at.
“Should we not meet that challenge and fall short, we’re mid-season so it’s not all is lost.
“But it gives us a good indicator of where we’re at, for sure.”
With Leeds’ traditional summer era rivals Bradford Bulls now a spent force and Hull KR’s relegation meaning there is no Hull derby either, Rhinos’ contests with Castleford are arguably now one of the biggest fixtures in the calendar.
Asked if he felt the same way, McDermott replied: “Probably. I know it’s always been a big fixture for Castleford, and we’ve always been aware that when we play Castleford we don’t get an easy run.
“Over the last two seasons they’ve had a really good run against us. “They’ve put some numbers, some scores on us and I would regard this as a big fixture, for sure.”
Indeed, it has been more than two years since Leeds last defeated their near neighbours who are hoping for a sixth successive win over Rhinos.