The eight-time Grand Final winners face London Broncos at Magic Weekend in Liverpool tomorrow desperately in need of a victory after an alarming campaign so far.
Although London sit last in 12th spot, 10th-placed Leeds are level on points with their promoted opponents, having won just four games all year; they could be propping up the rest of the competition by the time the two-day event concludes at Anfield.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post last night, Hetherington said: “They say it’s tough at the top and we’ve had plenty of experience of that over the last 20 years.
“We’ve seen pressure games at the top of Super League, play-off games, Challenge Cup ties and the need to be competitive up there where every game counts.
“Well, you know, we’re certainly finding it tough at the bottom as well; it’s just as intense and in some cases it’s even more so when looking at teams around you.
“I think the Super League table could change quite a bit in the next half of the season and in the next four to six weeks given how few points separate a lot of teams.
“It can be a different picture with a few wins but if you don’t get those wins then obviously you are where you are; Sunday’s game – the result of it – is very significant for both teams really.
“We desperately need an upturn in form but we’re confident we will get that particularly when we get some key players back from injury which we will see in the next few weeks.”
Leeds made the bold decision to sack new coach Dave Furner after just 14 games and Richard Agar, of course, is now in interim charge as they bid to retrieve the worrying situation.
Asked if he had dared think about the prospect of relegation, Hetherington – who has overseen the club’s greatest era since taking over in 1996 – replied: “We’ve got 14 games left. We’re at the halfway point, not 80 per cent through, or 90 per cent through and counting down the matches.
“We’ve had a particularly disappointing first half of the year and the team has been lacking in confidence.
“Looking at the squad – when you get the likes of Stevie Ward, Brett Ferres, Tui Lolohea, Konrad Hurrell back – we’re pretty certain we can turn it around. But there’s no certainty or guarantee; the only way to turn it around is with improved form. That’s what we’re striving for so we’ve a chance of winning games.”
Hetherington expects Agar to remain in charge for the foreseeable future and added: “(Director of rugby) Kevin (Sinfield) is very much managing all that process.
“He’s said we need some stability and that’s now what we’re getting: stability. Richard is working with all the players and I think we’ll see the signs of that over the next few weeks.
“That’s the most important thing at this moment of time – getting stability – and getting key men back on the field.”
Like everyone involved, Hetherington has come under pressure, too, but he remains defiant.
“There’s so many positive things happening at the club in terms of the business – the stadium development and such like – but clearly the team’s performances and results are its showcase and they have been really disappointing all season,” he said.
“It’s fair to say our expectations are much higher but this is sport. You have to earn everything you get and we’ve not done enough to be up the right side of the table.
“Knowing where you are, you have to deal with it. Kevin is working around the clock putting strategies and structures in place and everybody else is working hard. I’m confident our fortunes will take a turn for the better.”
Wakefield Trinity open Magic against Catalans Dragons this lunchtime followed by Hull FC v Huddersfield Giants and Wigan v Warrington before Hull KR, in 11th place, face Salford Red Devils in tomorrow’s first fixture.
“It’s a fascinating trio of games Sunday,” said Hetherington, whose club have not won at Magic since beating Bradford in 2012.
“You’ll have all the Rhinos fans cheering for Salford in their game against Hull KR which precedes it and no doubt those KR fans that stop will then cheer for London.
“You can imagine most neutrals will be cheering for London as well. They’ll get the biggest support they’ve probably ever had. But they’ve been competitive in nearly all their games. Then, a big clash between Castleford and St Helens finishes it all off.”