MITCH ACHURCH says, for the first time this season, Leeds Rhinos have started to feel like champions again.
That may seem strange given they lost again on Friday, suffering a 38-34 defeat at St Helens that leaves them with just three wins from 12 games.
However, the manner of the attacking display there was the best encouragement yet that the treble-winners – now down to 11th – might be ready to turn a corner.
Leeds, who visit bottom-placed Huddersfield Giants this Friday, produced some stunning tries and showed real invention in their play.
It was the first time this season they had scored more than 30 points and Australian forward Achurch admitted: “At half-time we said it felt like the penny had dropped. It was like what we were doing last year and things were coming off. We were still not 100 per cent but that’s the first time it has felt like last year.”
Achurch himself came up with some brilliant handling in the build-up to a first-half try from Jimmy Keinhorst while Rob Burrow, the former Great Britain scrum-half, was again superb, especially after moving to hooker.
“Rob is playing outstanding and that makes it a bit easier for us,” added the former Penrith Panthers man.
“Last year our game plan was pretty simple. It was send our big players in, get a play-the-ball win and then Rob would jump out and we’d all flood through.
“There was a little bit of that at Saints so it is a bit of a progression from where we’ve been earlier in the season.”
Of course, there are still significant question marks about their flimsy defence but Achurch argues more injuries on Friday left them with few chances to rotate their forwards.
Carl Ablett (ankle), Brett Delaney (hamstring), Beau Fallon (back) and Zak Hardaker (head) all came off at various points and all will be doubtful for Huddersfied, although Brett Ferres, Danny McGuire, Joel Moon and Adam Cuthbertson could return.
Achurch, 27, added: “The last 15, 20 minutes we were looking to the bench and we had no one left.
“Some of our big fellas had to play a lot more minutes than they should have done and it showed.
“Last year – and even this year when we are on defensively – it is all about our middle and them moving quickly and covering those holes.”