A few weeks ago I went to see Harlequins play Leeds Rhinos. Quins had already beaten Leeds at Headingley earlier in the season and were coming off of a resounding televised victory against Hull KR the week before, so I was expecting to see a good, well fought, close game. I saw that for one half of the game, but once Will Sharp threw one of the most ill-judged passes into touch that I’ve seen in a good long time (and with it any momentum) Leeds took complete charge and ended up cruising to victory by a score of 48-14. I was wondering at the time if Leeds, who seemed to have been a shadow of their former selves at stages during this season, had finally rediscovered the form that had taken them to two consecutive Super League titles.
About a month later, I’m still not entirely sure that Leeds are there yet, but they’re certainly heading in the right direction. They now have eight wins in their last nine games (the loss being a narrow defeat in Perpignan to the Dragons) and have managed to be verging on uber-threatening at various stages during that time. They also seem to have luck on their side, although they do deserve credit for finding the will to score two tries in the final three minutes to snatch victory at Wakefield. The fact that they had to do this does suggest that the Rhinos machine isn’t completely operational yet, but it does appear to be warming up nicely as the playoffs approach.
At the minute it seems that Leeds’ attacking mojo is in full working order. They have only been held under 30 points once in their last seven outings. No doubt it has helped that Ryan Hall is currently on a tear (he leads the try-scoring charts). It also probably helps that the midfield trio of Rob Burrow, Danny McGuire and Kevin Sinfield are playing together and hitting form as well. Since neither McGuire or Burrow are typical playmakers, Leeds are more reliant than most teams on having creativity elsewhere on the park. With Sinfield and Brent Webb chipping in (and Lee Smith and Keith Senior also running riot at the minute) it’s looking good for the Rhinos. This isn’t even mentioning the improvements in the pack (even though Wakefield physically outmatched them for 65 minutes, the Rhinos stepped up when it mattered).
At the minute the Rhinos appear to have two problems, and they are connected. Firstly, their defence clearly needs to be tightened up. They have somehow managed to win two consecutive games despite conceding thirty points, and that’s not a streak I would be actively trying to extend. Secondly, they don’t appear to play for a full eighty minutes at the minute. In fact, the last two games have almost been the same game in a different order (against Hull they raced out to an early lead, only to pegged worryingly back, whilst against Wakefield they looked really poor early before going mental in the last fifteen minutes). If Leeds want to go for their third title in a row (and I think they do) they’re going to need to concentrate defensively for a full game. Once they do that, then they will be hard to beat.
Leeds have a relatively difficult run-in to the playoffs, particularly in the next few weeks when they play three sides currently in the playoff positions in a row. Obviously the big game will be their Round 26 game against St Helens at Headingley. It could very well prove to be a dress rehearsal for another Grand Final meeting between the two. If Leeds can maintain this momentum they have through to the end of the season, and tighten up their defense (because other teams won’t be so forgiving defensively) then they are going to be a serious threat once more. Leeds are starting to look ominous, and if they can manage to win games whilst not playing anywhere near their full potential, it’s going to be worrying for the opposition if they can operate at 100%.
After a fallow spell, I’ve been on real form the last two weeks. In fact, only Salford both weeks stopped me from getting a perfect record (by somehow beating Saints one week and losing to the Crusaders the next). It’s a weird league this year.
Results: 78 / 138 (56.5%)
Margins: 5 / 138 (3.6%)
Tags: Leeds Rhinos