Leeds Rhinos: Alex Mellor reveals why semi-final underdogs will have ‘fire’ in their bellies against St Helens

HE HAS not played for nine weeks and thought his entire season was over but Alex Mellor is adamant he is now ready for Leeds Rhinos’ biggest game of the year.

Alex Mellor believes Leeds Rhinos can pull off a Super League play-off semi-final shock against St Helens on Friday night. Picture: Steve Riding.

The second-row hopes to make his return from a knee injury for tomorrow’s Super League semi-final at champions St Helens.

It would be a big call from coach Richard Agar to include him given he has been out of action since rupturing a medial cruciate ligament against Hull FC on July 29 and required surgery.

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But the former Huddersfield Giants forward had been one of Leeds’ most consistent performers this term before his lay-off and hopes to come straight back in for the sudden-death game.

“I feel good,” Mellor told The Yorkshire Post.

“I was sort of back last week but I’d only trained once so it was probably a little too soon for the Wigan play-off.

“But injury-wise I’m all good and I’m ready to go. I did think initially my season would be over; I wasn’t sure how long it’d take to get back after the brace and get strength in the knee. But I did a load of stuff with the brace on so that when it did come off I was just pretty much ready to get straight back into running.”

During his absence, 17-year-old Morgan Gannon has impressed in the back-row while James Donaldson partnered Rhyse Martin there for last Thursday’s 8-0 elimination play-off at Wigan so Agar certainly has options.

Alex Mellor, in action for Leeds Rhinos Wakefield Trinity back in March. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

Experienced New Zealander Bodene Thompson is also available but Halifax-born Mellor, a regular since joining from Giants last season, hopes his previous fine form will persuade the coach to throw him straight back in as Leeds bid for Old Trafford.

“I hope that will stand me in good stead to get picked,” he said.

“I hope the form I was in before means he has confidence in me - whether I have played or not played - to put me in.

“It is a huge game. The team’s going well so I have to train well and show that I am back to where I was to get selected.

TOP NOTCH: Leeds Rhinos' Konrad Hurrell and Robert Lui celebrate at the end of the win over Wigan Warriors last Friday. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

“That’s another challenge for me but it’s great to know I could be in contention for a semi-final.

“And I know I am 100 per cent ready. I hope I’m playing as I can’t wait to get back stuck in. I’ve missed that camaraderie feel and togetherness that you don’t get when sitting on the sidelines.”

As they seek a third successive Super League title, Saints are clear favourites, especially given they destroyed Leeds 40-6 at the Totally Wicked Stadium barely two weeks ago.

Moreover, Rhinos finished fifth and have struggled for consistency this term.

Nevertheless, having shown their defensive steel last week, Mellor feels they are a team capable of stepping up to another level.

“We have that ‘nothing to lose, underdog’ feel to it whereas they are the champions who haven’t lost for two years,” said the athletic forward, who started out his career at Bradford Bulls.

“Ninety per cent of people are expecting them to do that again but I’m sure that will work in our favour. It gives you the fire in your belly to go on and beat the so-called best team. It’s just more motivation for us.”

That said, Mellor knows Saints, who boast the likes of England stars Jonny Lomax, James Roby, Alex Walmsley and Tommy Makinson, can be ruthless.

“Their record and how they play speaks for itself,” he said.

“They are such a champion team and have strike all over the field. But I don’t think it’s strike that can’t be nullified.

“If we get the right gameplan and mindset going into it, it will still be a challenge but it reduces the size of it.

“We need to put our best foot forward and with it being semi-final football, anything can happen. It’s do-or-die and that levels the playing field, giving us a better chance.”

Mellor believes the professionalism and gritty nature shown in knocking out Wigan and keeping them pointless will prepare them for Kristian Woolf’s side.

He recalled: “It was such a grind. The game was just relentless to watch; each team just not giving in and there were no breaks in play.

“It was just set for set. I said to a couple of the lads afterwards it looked just so tough to play in; for your lungs, it looked ridiculous.

“They dug in pretty deep. And it was pretty spirited. Everyone looked like they were on the same page when we were defending.”

However, he also feels the experience of winning the Challenge Cup final at Wembley last year will aid Leeds as they approach another high pressure occasion.

Mellor said: “It will massively help.

“You can’t substitute those big games and those feelings you feel before – the anxiety and the nerves – but once you’ve experienced it you know how to handle it.

“You have to think about process rather than outcome and think about doing all the little things.

“It’s still the same game: it’s just the outcome is totally different.

“The experience for a load of our players playing in that Challenge Cup final will definitely help us Friday.

“And hopefully the week after...”