Rhinos ready for an exciting new challenge

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LEEDS RHINOS captain Kevin Sinfield believes winning Super League under the new format is likely to be a trickier and more onerous task than ever before.

TICKING THE BOXES: Kevin Sinfield in front of a message of what it takes to become a Leeds Rhino. Picture: Tony Johnson

TICKING THE BOXES: Kevin Sinfield in front of a message of what it takes to become a Leeds Rhino. Picture: Tony Johnson

No player has led a club to more titles than the stand-off who has lifted the trophy on six separate occasions for the Headingley club.

Leeds finished top when they won their first Grand Final success in 2004 while their last one in 2012 came from fifth.

During that golden period of success, there have been numerous different formats in the play-offs – which have varied between four, five, six or eight clubs – to establish how sides actually get to Old Trafford.

In the forthcoming season, which starts next week, there has been a significant restructuring aimed at ushering in a “new era” to, principally, help make Super League more exciting.

Promotion and relegation returns, Super League is reduced from 14 clubs to 12 and the main headline news is the introduction of the Super 8s.

This occurs after 23 fixtures when the 24 Super League and Championship clubs will split into three groups of eight, depicted by their league positions.

The top eight will continue on the potential road to Old Trafford, playing another seven games against each other.

The table after all 30 games will then decide who participates directly in the play-offs – first play fourth and second play third in the semi-finals, rather than the previous top eight – for a place in the Grand Final.

Organisers vow “every minute, of every match” will count as, also, those in the bottom four are at risk of relegation as they enter into a middle eight Qualifiers with the Championship’s top quartet.

The system is far different to anything Super League has adopted before and the hope is that the seven extra fixtures against the leading sides will ensure the quality keeps improving.

Asked if this new format will make winning Super League any easier or more difficult, Sinfield said: “I’d say probably more difficult. The last two times we’ve won it (2011/2012) we’ve had the luxury of coming from fifth and that ‘loophole’ has now closed.

“But we’re all interested to see how it pans out. We understand how tough it’s going to be to get in that top eight to start with and then moving forward getting in that top four, too.

“I think we’ll have an understanding after the first season of what it takes and the requirements but I think we’re all in the dark at the moment. Everyone’s talking about getting out of the blocks early and starting well but we can’t all do that can we?

“But I think we’re ready. I’m pretty optimistic. We’re in decent shape and looking forward to getting started at Hull KR.”

Leeds, who finished sixth last term and endured a shock home elimination defeat to seventh-placed Catalan in the first round of play-offs, open on the east coast a week on Sunday.

Sinfield, the ex-England captain, accepts the new format means, realistically, there has to be more emphasis on finishing that first stage in the top four.

“All clubs will realise if they’re in that top four after 23 rounds they’re more likely to be in it after 30 rounds, too, so we’ll give it our best shot,” he added.

“We don’t quite know how it will go but I do quite like the new system, the idea of Super 8s, playing some really tough games towards the end and then rolling straight into a two week play-off. I think it will be a good competition.”

In pre-season, especially in Jamie Peacock’s testimonial versus Bradford on Sunday, Leeds have shown a willingness to produce an attractive brand of football. Sinfield, 34, admitted: “It is probably something we’ll look to do more often. This club is renowned for playing some great football.

“Entertaining stuff is fantastic if it gets results and I’m hoping we can have a real charge in 2015.”