Leeds Carnegie will tap into all of Leeds Rhinos’ play-off expertise as they bid to secure promotion this season.
With three regular games currently remaining, they can cement their place in the Championship top four if they can beat Plymouth Albion at Headingley Carnegie tomorrow or London Scottish fail to take five points at Bedford.
They are then likely to have to face current leaders Bristol – who have spent vast amounts to strengthen their bid for glory – or last year’s relegated Premiership side London Welsh if they are to reach the play-off final.
But fourth-placed Carnegie have won seven of their previous eight games and, of course, can tap into the vast knowledge of sister club Rhinos who are the most successful club in Super League history when it comes to knockout football.
“The atmosphere around our team is as good as it has ever been and there is a confidence in what they are doing and how they are doing it,” said Carnegie chairman Ian McGeechan.
“In the end it’ll come down to who deals with the pressure; that is what play-off rugby is all about.
“We have experience of that from last year, which I believe will stand us in good stead, and we have the experience and advice available from people like (Leeds Rhinos captain) Kevin Sinfield and (coach) Brian McDermott and, of course, James Lowes, who know how to win play-off games and titles when it matters.”
Carnegie head coach Lowes won two Grand Finals as a player with Bradford Bulls and was assistant to McDermott when Leeds historically won the Super League title from fifth in 2011, and, remarkably, again the following season.
“I think our rugby has been good and we have been playing not just attractive rugby but effective rugby,” said McGeechan.
“We need to keep the momentum going now and the experience from last year’s play-offs means we are in good shape to make the most of it.
“All the games this year against the other three teams in the top four have been close matches.
“Whilst we have not beaten London Welsh in either meeting, we’ve dominated those games for long periods on both occasions.
“We have beaten Bristol and knowing the rugby that all three teams are playing, I think we can take confidence into the play-offs that we will give really strong performances against whoever we have to play.
“It is home and away and we know we have to be good over two legs but if we can do that Premiership Rugby is there for us.”
Leeds, of course, are battling for silverware on two fronts having reached the British & Irish Cup semi-final – where they visit Bristol – after beating Plymouth 41-21 at Headingley just eight days ago.
They are quickly in action again against the same side tomorrow although Lowes has made changes to strengthen his hand and help ensure there are no late hiccups in their quest to secure that crucial play-off place.
Fred Burdon returns at centre while winger Christian Georgiou and fly-half Glyn Hughes are promoted from the bench.
James Currie starts at tighthead in place of Paul Hill, second-row Mike Myerscough comes in for Harry Casson, captain Jacob Rowan returns at blindside, No8 Ryan Burrows is back after a two game absence and fit-again lock Calum Green’s set for his first match since Christmas.
Meanwhile, though Leeds are set for major changes next season when they will be relaunched as Yorkshire Carnegie to help “create a legacy for the professional game in the county”, McGeechan reassured supporters that their recruitment plans are unaffected.
“We’ve had a long-term plan to keep building on the squad to make sure we get the right players in, which we’ve been able to follow through on,” he said.
“We have stability now within the group of players, the core group has been retained, and I’m very excited about the possibilities emerging since the announcement regarding Yorkshire Carnegie.
“To have a county wide, integrated development programme with a professional team at the top, which will be a new entity, will truly reflect the talent and expertise within the county.”