DEFENSIVE RESILIENCE is the priority for coach Dave Furner as Leeds Rhinos prepare for tomorrow’s derby visit of Castleford Tigers.
Rhinos’ squad for tomorrow includes Betfred Super League’s leading try scorer Ash Handley, its top metre maker Konrad Hurrell and the player with most offloads, Trent Merrin.
Despite that, Leeds – who have played a game more than most of their Betfred Super League rivals – are two points adrift at the foot of the table and have the competition’s worst defensive record.
Furner is confident in his team’s ability to attack, but knows they will need a huge improvement defensively against a team capable of scoring from anywhere on the field.
“I have had a look at the competition stats and the match average and we are pretty high on the attacking side,” Furner said.
“It is the defensive side that’s been letting us down and they are the areas we’ve been working on, but two weeks ago it was last play kicks and last week we conceded three tries from dummy-half.
“We have just got to be more consistent, in particular on our tryline. It is something I keep instilling in this team, resilience on our tryline.
“If you stop a try it is just like scoring one. We need to have that really tough mentality there. We are going to keep working on that, we have conceded far too many points and we need to rectify that.”
Tomorrow’s game comes just five days after Leeds were beaten 26-22 at Catalans Dragons.
They led by 12 points early in that fixture and were eight ahead against London Broncos the previous week, but failed to close either game out.
Furner insisted he is not focusing on the league table and stressed: “It is just about the team getting better, week-in, week-out.
“The side each week has been full of energy and we have played some really good football. It is just maintaining that for 80 minutes, that’s what we’ve got to do.
“There’s going to be patches in a game where you are doing it tough; it’s just being able to call on the areas we’ve been working hard at in training and producing that on the field. The players have bought into what we are doing and it’s just a matter of keeping learning. No one likes to lose and I know we are not far off getting a win.”
Tigers are also on the back of a defeat, 42-12 at home to St Helens last Friday. Of tomorrow’s opponents, Furner said: “They are a very consistent team. Castleford versus Leeds is always a big occasion and I live out towards that way and I do get a healthy reminder when I am walking around, but I am looking forward to the challenge.
“I know what their strengths and weaknesses are and we know they are going to be fired up. It is a good opportunity for our guys. I think it is more about us, rather than them. It is about nailing those areas and we have certainly got to be more aggressive. We’re hoping we see that on Thursday night.”
Tui Lolohea, Harry Newman and James Donaldson are all included in Rhinos’ initial 19-man squad after being left out of the side which lost in France. Leeds are without Brett Ferres as he begins a two-game ban. Furner said Lolohea’s omission against Catalans, with Liam Sutcliffe moving from the second-row to stand-off, was “the right decision for the team”, but he is keeping plans for tomorrow under wraps.
“Tui has been named in the team and we will have a look at final preparations [today],” Furner said.
“He has reacted the way I wanted him to. I know he is not happy, but he is training and doing the things we’ve asked. I am happy with his attitude.”
He added: “Liam has been very solid in the right back-row and I thought he handled the stand-off position quite well.
“He is solid. I will always make the decision that’s best for the team.”
Furner is hopeful Adam, Cuthbertson (ankle) will be available for the trip to Hull KR in eight days’ time, but Don Crosby is still awaiting clearance after knee and ankle operations in the off-season. Carl Ablett, who has not played this season, has undergone a second ankle clearout and will be out for another four to six weeks.