PART of their mission has been accomplished, but Australian front-row Mitch Garbutt says Leeds Rhinos still have work to do to reach their ultimate destination.
A 38-26 win over Hull two days ago secured Rhinos’ place in the Super League semi-finals and one success from their final three Super 8s fixtures – away games with Castleford Tigers and Huddersfield Giants either side of a Headingley meeting with Salford Red Devils – would guarantee a home tie.
Leeds have lost just twice on their own turf this season and Garbutt reckons second place would put them in a good position to feature in the biggest game of the year at Old Trafford.
“Whenever we play at Headingley it is a massive boost for us,” he said.
“I think we can beat anyone at home, then if you get in that Grand Final it is anyone’s on the day. But our next job is to make sure we get that second spot.”
Leeds have been the big improvers in Super League this year.
Twelve months ago, they were battling for top-flight survival in the middle-eights Qualifiers after having finished ninth at the end of the regular season.
A place in the play-offs is more than most pundits predicted before a ball had been kicked, but Garbutt insisted they can not be happy with simply returning to the top four.
“I think it just shows how frustrated we were with last year’s performance,” he said.
“I think towards the end of the season we were probably playing our best footy last year and that has carried over into this year.”
A key addition, an emerging youngster and a back-in-form forward have been major components behind Leeds’s revival, the Australian believes.
“Bringing Matt Parcell into the squad has been great,” he said of the hooker signed from Manly Sea Eagles shortly before the season began.
“Jack Walker has added a lot at full-back and Adam Cuthbertson has been great.
“He is playing well; whenever Cuthbo is on we are a better team and he is doing what he does best.”
Leeds face their biggest test in the Super 8s next Friday when they visit league leaders Castleford.
Their previous game at Wheldon Road, in March, resulted in a record 66-10 drubbing and Castleford have beaten Leeds twice since then.
“It is massive,” Garbutt said of what could be a Grand Final dress rehearsal.
“We haven’t beaten them in a while and that’s something we are aiming to do. There’s no talk of taking any games easy now, we’ve got to play well every week.”
Garbutt accepts Leeds will need to play better than they did two days ago.
“It was a tough game,” he said of the win over Hull, who were backing up just five days after their Challenge Cup final triumph over Wigan Warriors.
“They hung in there; everyone probably thought they would fall away after a big couple of days celebrating, but credit to them, they fought all the way.”
The two points were precious, but coach Brian McDermott was far from impressed with Leeds’s performance, describing it as “awful”. Rhinos scored six tries and were never behind, but struggled to keep Hull at bay.
Garbutt accepts they will need to be better over the final five – they hope – games of the year.
“It was one of those games where we had a few chances to put the game to bed and we made a few costly errors and we gave their danger players chance to do some good things,” he reflected.
“But we got the win. I think Brian touched on it earlier in the year, whenever we had been close to achieving something we lost that game. But the important thing on Thursday was the win.
“It puts us in a good spot on the table and to take a win away against a decent Hull side is good.”
Garbutt, who joined Leeds mid-way through 2015 and is contracted for another two seasons, was among the try-scorers in his comeback from three games out due to a calf injury.
He said: “It has been a bit of a weird year for me, to be honest.
“When I’ve been out there, I’ve been playing as good as I’ve played, but I haven’t been out there as much as I would have liked.
“There’s been a few four or five-week injuries that have really stunted my season, but, personally, I think I have been playing as good as I have since I’ve been here.”