Leeds Rhinos captain Kevin Sinfield says this evening’s Super 8s game in Perpignan is already being treated like a semi-final by the league leaders.
The West Yorkshire club are just two points in front of second-placed Wigan Warriors as they begin the fifth round of games.
Having lost to St Helens a week ago, a first defeat in eight games for the Challenge Cup victors, they realise they can ill-afford to drop any more points when they head to Catalans Dragons.
“We’ve got to bounce back,” said stand-off Sinfield. “It’s a big game, a tough game and a tough place for us to go.
“But it’s one we are looking forward to. With three league matches left it’s important we get a result, with what’s at stake.
“It has been well-documented we’d love to win the League Leaders’ Shield, so it’s important we get this one.
“With so much at stake, it is like a semi-final for us. We need to get two out of three, if not three out of three. That’s why this week becomes a semi-final. We need to play well and be better than we were against St Helens and I am sure we will be.”
It is often the case that sides fail to perform after a Challenge Cup final and Leeds, who defeated Hull KR 50-0 at Wembley to hold onto their crown, did struggle against St Helens, losing 32-18 at Headingley.
However, Sinfield, who celebrates his 35th birthday today, maintains any hangover is now shrugged off and they are ready to deliver in France.
“We have been to the final and lost on a few occasions and I think the effect losing has on your season is very different to winning,” he added, Leeds losing all four games after beating Castleford at Wembley in 2014.
“Teams that have lost in Challenge Cup finals often go on and win the Grand Final, while teams that win it have struggled.
“We have learned from last year. We are in a completely different place, have got a few bodies missing, but the squad is capable of going to France and getting a result.
“We just need to play well; last week we didn’t give ourselves enough of a chance. Saints played very well and were pretty clinical with the opportunities they got.”
Sinfield expects Wigan to win their remaining games against St Helens and at home to Castleford Tigers so that does add pressure on his own side.
Catalans, meanwhile, are out of the race for a semi-final place but they have lost just twice at home this year, a 38-22 defeat to Leeds in March and then a setback against Huddersfield Giants in July.
Former England captain Sinfield, knocked out of the play-offs with Leeds by the French side 12 months ago, admitted: “We may find they have got a bit of a carefree attitude towards the game and that makes them dangerous.
“We know Catalans like to throw the ball about and they will ask some questions.
“We are aware we are going into a bit of a cauldron there and a place where not many teams have got a result, but we are looking forward to the challenge.”