It seems absurd given their current parsimonious style, but head coach Brian McDermott does not believe his Leeds Rhinos side are a “great” defensive team.
They may have conceded just 82 points in 10 Super League games so far – their nearest rivals on that score, Wigan Warriors, have let in nearly twice as many – and, remarkably, have only once had more than two tries posted against them.
Yet, ahead of tomorrow’s Tetley’s Challenge Cup fifth-round tie with St Helens, McDermott is unmoved.
“That last one is a good stat,” he said, Saints, ironically, the only side to score three tries when inflicting a 14-10 defeat last month which is also Leeds’s solitary loss this term.
“It’s something we like to look back upon, but that’s not something we celebrate or get excited about. It’s something we have got to value. It’s only early stages still in the league.
“We’ve got another 17 rounds to go plus some more Challenge Cup rounds hopefully and if we can keep that sort of defensive stat going it’d be a remarkable effort.
“But it will be a tough stat to keep hold of. We’re certainly not rolling our shoulders thinking we’ve got this defensive game cracked because you only have to look at our Salford match on Monday. We were very leaky defensively. It’s just that we had a great chaseback and a great desire to stop tries.
“You have to applaud that but at the same time scratch your head as to why we were conceding those breaks to start with.
“I personally don’t think we’re a great defensive team but I do think we value saving tries and stopping teams scoring them.”
Stopping Saints scoring tomorrow will be a significant challenge despite their recent stumbles.
Leeds have usurped them at the top of Super League after Nathan Brown’s early leaders lost at home to Wigan on Good Friday and again at Widnes Vikings on Easter Monday.
McDermott said: “Yes, they’ve lost their last two but they won their first nine.
“They are a very good team and we’ll prepare for a very good Saints. I think this has been building up since both were drawn out of the hat together.
“Both clubs have got through the league as best they could and been looking forward to this one ever since.”
Indeed, it has all the ingredients.
Leeds are missing only Paul Aiton, Stevie Ward and Jamie Jones-Buchanan while McDermott has brought back centre Kallum Watkins, who was rested for Monday’s 32-4 win over Salford, and forward Ian Kirke is hoping for a recall after being 18th man in that match.
Saints are boosted by the return of Luke Walsh, Alex Walmsley, James Roby and Jonny Lomax, who were all rested at Widnes, while Jordan Turner, Kyle Amor and Adam Swift are expected back after missing Easter through injury.
Willie Manu and Anthony Laffranchi are the only absentees for the visitors.
See tomorrow’s Yorkshire Post for interview and video with Leeds’s Tom Briscoe.