LEEDS RHINOS winger Ryan Hall insists his stuttering side are “miles” better than this stage last season but accepts Friday’s final Super 8s game at Huddersfield Giants is now “massive” for a variety of reasons.
The faltering long-time leaders have lost three successive games since winning the Challenge Cup final at Wembley and their hold on pole position - and even a top-two finish - is now perilous as they head into the last round.
Thursday’s home reverse to Castleford Tigers means they only lead second-placed Wigan Warriors due to a superior points difference while Huddersfield, who have won their last five games, in third and St Helens (fourth) are both just a point behind.
Champions Saints host Warrington Wolves on Thursday while Wigan welcome Castleford on Friday as the battle for the League Leaders’ Shield reaches a dramatic conclusion, Saints the only side who can’t still lift it with 80 minutes to go.
Leeds, of course, lost four games in a row after winning the Challenge Cup 12 months ago but back then had also suffered defeat in three successive games before Wembley, too.
Hall said: “I know it obviously looks similar when you compare it to last year but we know it’s not; we’re miles in front of where we were then and we just need to concentrate on getting back to how we were performing earlier in the year.
“The form does give us a different mindset to usual and it’s not a nice feeling.
“There were silly errors against Cas - I made a soft one myself - and things like that start to creep in, which they haven’t all year.
“That’s the most disappointing thing; the way we’re playing now isn’t how we’ve performed all year and it’s hard to put the finger on why.
“Huddersfield are finding some really good form at the moment and we’re not.
“It’s a massive game for a whole host of reasons and it’s vital we turn up on form.
“The big prize at the end of the season is the biggest motivation for us as a group, and we still feel like we’ve got enough in us to get the job done.”
The final finishing spots are crucial as first play fourth at home in the semi-final for a place at Old Trafford and, similarly, second host third as the Grand Finalists are decided.
“It is massive to be at home,” admitted Hall.
“As we experienced away in Catalans (46-16) it’s really tough.
“When things are close and it’s down to those small margins the Headingley crowd can be so important.”