Head coach Brian McDermott admits the entire Leeds Rhinos squad is “jittery” ahead of facing Manly Sea Eagles in the World Club Challenge.
However, it is not because they fear the Australian champions – Leeds are confident they can overcome the Sydney outfit next Friday – but purely because they are all concerned about securing their places for the showdown.
Leeds are enjoying that rarity of a fully-fit squad in the opening salvos of Super League and, with McDermott seeing no relevance in resting any of his stars in this evening’s game at Wigan Warriors, the pressure is intensifying.
“There is a massive incentive for everyone,” he admitted.
“Everyone is jittery. The whole place is jittery – about who’s going to play where, who’s going to get what shirt and there are some real genuine concerns with young fellas, mid-range players and senior ones as well. They realise if they don’t attain those standards we know they can, then we’ve got a deep squad. That’s a great threat.
“I can’t motivate like that. I don’t think anyone can. You can get guest or motivational speakers in, or take them on team-building sessions, but losing the shirt is the biggest motivation for any player. You just can’t create that.”
Certainly, the old adage about taking one game at a time does not apply to Leeds this evening.
McDermott, whose side opened with victory over Hull KR, insists the champions can ill-afford not to think about the WCC.
“We’re mindful there’s a game there and have to be very good against Manly,” he said.
“We’re using these two games to do two things – get as many points out of it as we can but also try and get some momentum and the form we need to be in good shape playing Manly.
“There’s nobody getting rested and we’re not holding off anything into Wigan. That would be madness.
“If it was Round 25 and the Challenge Cup final the week after I might have said something different. But we’ve only just got going so we need to build as much momentum as we can to hit Manly with all we’ve got.”
Wigan, who defeated Leeds in the Challenge Cup final the last time they met, are hurting after a shock opening loss at home to an under-strength Huddersfield.
But McDermott warned: “I didn’t think they were that far off. They were a bit ropey but will be a lot better this week. We will too.”