PERPIGNAN hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for Leeds Rhinos, but England ace Carl Ablett is confident they can pull off a win in the Dragons’ den when it matters most.
Leeds have beaten Catalan Dragons just three times in seven visits to the south of France – and only once out of five meetings at tonight’s Stade Gilbert Brutus venue.
But this evening’s showdown is the first time Rhinos have ever gone abroad in play-offs rugby and Ablett reckons the preliminary semi-final is a whole new ball game.
Defeat would end Rhinos’ season and their reign as Super League champions and Ablett insisted: “It probably hasn’t been the best ground for us over the last few years, but it’s a different type of game now.
“It’s the play-offs and it’s time to start getting excited. We put in a decent performance last week and we’ll go into it with confidence.”
Wakefield Trinity Wildcats pushed Rhinos all the way in the opening round of the play-offs six days ago, before the home side toughed out a 42-20 win.
According to Ablett, that was just the sort of game the champions needed ahead of tonight’s daunting prospect.
“It was a good game for us, it was a real play-off game – it had a good intensity and a good flow to it and it probably stood us in good stead for this week,” he said.
“They had a bad result last week and they will be looking to put a few things right. I am sure they will start fast and we’ll have to match that, then hopefully we can come out on top.”
Rhinos are masters of play-offs rugby, having never failed to qualify for the end-of-season series.
They are aiming for their fifth Grand Final in six seasons – and eighth in all – and of tonight’s initial 19 only Stevie Ward, Weller Hauraki and Richard Moore have not won an Old Trafford title decider.
“There’s no substitute for experience and we’ve got plenty of that in the team,” said Ablett. “We have got players who can direct us around the field and are good at reading the game.
“There were times in last week’s game when they were in front and it was tough, but there was definitely no panic.
“There are some leaders in our team who know how to grind out those results.”