COACH BRIAN McDermott was “proud” of his Leeds Rhinos side despite seeing them go down to a fifth successive Betfred Super League defeat last night.
A makeshift Rhinos side led twice, but were pipped 23-22 by the runaway league leaders St Helens.
A last-gasp drop goal condemned Leeds to their fourth one-point loss of the season, but their performance was a giant leap forward from recent games.
Rhinos remain seventh, but are now ahead of eighth-placed Huddersfield Giants only on points difference.
Catalans Dragons, who lost 26-25 at Huddersfield last night, are still three points adrift of Leeds ahead of their crucial meeting at Emerald Headingley on Wednesday.
McDermott refused to describe it as a “cruel” loss, but was encouraged by his team’s display.
He said: “It was brilliant, but I’ve rarely not been proud of the group of players I coach.
“This was an indication of what we can do. I’ve been saying for a few weeks, behind the scenes it’s good.
“We’ve loads of fight in us and to come up with a performance like that is an indicator of where we’re at.
“We lost, but it makes you sleep easier that the blokes are working so hard for each other.”
McDermott had no complaints about the result, adding: “I give credit to Saints. When we scored towards the back end to go ahead I did think ‘what have Saints got’ and to be fair to them they came up with the goods.
“There was a huge amount of pressure on them, so credit to them.”
Rhinos included four academy-qualified players in their 17 and McDermott said games like last night will be invaluable for them in the future.
Ash Handley suffered a “stringer” injury last night, but could be available for Wednesday. McDermott said Mikolaj Oledzki is the only player with a chance of returning to the team.