Leeds Rhinos coach Brian McDermott is hoping a few choice words with his players will help get them back on track for the treble.
The faltering Rhinos have lost both Super 8s fixtures since their record-breaking 50-0 rout of Hull KR in the Challenge Cup final and they need to get back to winning ways against Castleford in tonight’s derby at Headingley to remain in pole position for the league leaders’ shield.
The recent defeats have rekindled memories of Leeds’ dramatic fall from grace 12 months ago, when they lost all four fixtures after their Wembley triumph to miss out on the top four and fall at the first hurdle of the play-offs.
McDermott rubbishes suggestions of a repeat collapse, arguing that last year the signs had been there before Wembley, but admits the scale of last week’s 46-16 defeat by Catalans Dragons is a worry.
“It is a concern, not so much the losses but the nature of the losses and last week’s in particular,” he said.
“That was a terrible performance. We were shocking with the ball and it was the worst I’ve seen from our defence in three years.
“I suppose, if there’s any comfort from that, it’s the fact that it was was so shocking, it’s probably not going to happen again.
“It’s been a tough week this week dealing with that performance. We’ve had to have a look at some stuff and adjust some things and have some conversations with each other which you wouldn’t want to have at this time of year.
“We’re knocking dust off, we’re not knocking rust off. If we want to get back where we were, we’re not going back weeks and weeks, because just a couple of weeks ago we probably put in one of the best Wembley performances ever so it’s there.
“That in itself is a danger because you just assume it’s going to happen and that’s what this week has been about, not presuming everything’s going to show up on Thursday but making sure it does.
“I don’t feel we need to dig for answers. The timing of it is the concern. We play an unbelievably determined Castleford this week and have to go to Huddersfield and do a job next week if we are going to have any chance of finishing as league leaders.”
Castleford were on course for the semi-finals after winning their opening two Super 8s fixtures but three consecutive defeats have left them in danger of slipping out of the top five and coach Daryl Powell is hoping they can quickly regroup and end the year on a high.
“Ultimately there is still a lot to play for, the players that are here have a fair bit of pride about them and we’ve got a good opportunity to finish fifth,” he said.
“I think it’s important we continue to play well and don’t put our cue on the rack. It’s crucial we maintain our standards and I am confident that will happen.”
Powell recalls forward Matt Cook from suspension in place of Gadwin Springer while McDermott welcomes back from injury centre Kallum Watkins, who needs one try to reach a career century.
Leeds are still without Rob Burrow, who is struggling to overcome a quad/hip injury he sustained while scoring a try at Wembley, and with Paul Aiton out for the season with a broken arm that means they will be without a specialist hooker for the third successive week.
“Rob is having treatment but these things have to heal on their own,” said McDermott.
“We’ve been mixing and matching and trying different things. Missing both your hookers isn’t ideal – we’ve had Kev (Sinfield) and Adam Cuthbertson running there – but we’ve just got to get through it and find a way to win without having a regular nine in there.”