TONIGHT’S fixture at Headingley Carnegie could be a good advertisement for reducing Super League to 12 clubs – but Leeds Rhinos’ stalwart Rob Burrow is not expecting the visit of London Broncos to turn into a rout.
London have been the whipping boys of the competition so far but, rather than focusing on their troubles, Burrow said Leeds have reasons of their own to ensure recent high standards do not drop.
“We have got a fit squad and a strong squad, so everybody’s vying for places,” said the six-time Grand Final winner, who will make his 350th Super League appearance this evening.
“It is important everybody performs, to keep their place in the team. There are a lot of reasons to be up for this game and London will see it as a great opportunity for them to start playing well.
“We have got some blokes on loan down there and they will want to show what they can do, so there’s a lot riding on it. You can never not be up for a game.”
A clash of two unbeaten heavyweights at St Helens next Friday is in prospect if Rhinos record their fifth win over the season.
And going into that encounter in good form is crucial in Burrow’s opinion.
“We go into every game to win, but it is about performance as well,” he stressed.
“We want to perform well and win and we have got a tough game against St Helens coming up, so we need to be in good form for that.
“We aren’t looking too far ahead, but we do want to put things right this week.”
London’s form could not be much worse. Tony Rea’s side have lost all five of their Super League fixtures so far, scoring only 78 points and conceding 227.
Their defence has leaked an average of 45 points per match this year, just one point fewer than the total scored against Leeds in Rhinos’ four wins and their draw away to Huddersfield Giants.
It looks like mission impossible for the men from the capital, but Burrow knows Leeds – who will go top of the table if they win – have been overturned in similar circumstances in the past.
“Away teams always enjoy coming to Leeds and there’s no better place for them to start playing well,” he warned. “They have got some dangerous players and it is a big occasion for them to show what they can do and it is the ideal place for them to do it, so there’s a lot for them to play for.”
Rhinos have become known as a team who finish the season strongly, but this year they have got off on the right foot. Last Friday’s 38-4 demolition of previously unbeaten Widnes Vikings showed what they are capable of both with and without the ball but, as far as Burrow is concerned, it is far too early to get excited about what could be achieved this year.
“Our form is alright but we aren’t getting carried away,” he said.
“We are going well, we haven’t lost yet and to get a draw against Huddersfield – after losing to them so many times – was something. We are quite happy but we aren’t brilliant yet, we know that.
“We have just got to keep plugging along.
“To be unbeaten in this tough competition is good but there’s still a lot more to come. That’s the same for every team. I don’t think any team is anywhere near their best yet. We are one of those teams who are looking to improve every game.”
Burrow is ever-present for Rhinos so far, starting three times at hooker and coming off the bench in the other two, both in the dummy-half role.
Coach Brian McDermott has alternated between Burrow and off-season signing Paul Aiton as his starting No 9 and the former insisted: “I will play wherever the coach puts me, but obviously I want to start, I don’t want to come off the bench – I have always said that.
“I want to start and play the whole game, but I have to play well to make that happen.
“Paul Aiton is a fantastic player, I think the world of him and I can see his worth to this team. We have competition for places and that is what it’s all about.”
Front-rower Ian Kirke, who has yet to play this season following surgery to repair a damaged rib, has been named in Leeds’ initial 19.
England academy prop Rob Mulhern, 19, could make his debut and Chris Clarkson, Brad Singleton and Ryan Hall are all in contention for a recall, although Joel Moon, Jamie Peacock and Brett Delaney drop out.