Leeds aiming for play-offs as Titans bid for bragging rights

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LEEDS Carnegie coach Diccon Edwards admits the lure of being crowned Yorkshire’s top side will be on the minds of all involved tomorrow.

Admittedly, his side principally require victory over Rotherham Titans to safeguard their own ambitions of reaching the Championship play-offs as the season nudges ever closer to its final crescendo.

That target is no longer available to their South Yorkshire rivals who sit down in eighth well adrift of the play-off pace.

However, given the Headingley Carnegie fixture doubles up as part of the inaugural Yorkshire Regiment Trophy, Edwards is only too aware that their fierce foes still have plenty to play for.

Relegation-threatened Doncaster Knights are already out of the running for the silverware, which has been contested by the county’s three clubs during their Championship meetings this term, meaning the winners of tomorrow’s game will take it home.

“We are expecting the usual tough battle that we have with Rotherham every time we meet them,” conceded Edwards, his side having narrowly prospered 24-13 at Clifton Lane in November.

“They have had a tough time this season but that will count for nothing come Sunday at 3pm.

“They will be desperate to turn us over and we must make sure that we are ready to meet that enthusiasm head on from the off.

“We are also playing for the Yorkshire Regiment Trophy to be classed as the top team in Yorkshire so there is plenty at stake.

“They have a number of former Leeds players in their ranks and I am sure they will be up for a big game, too.”

One of those is winger Lee Blackett, who joined Rotherham as a player-coach last summer after a six-year stint at Headingley.

He sees no reason why his erstwhile club cannot push on and secure a play-off spot after a season that has had its fair share of problems.

Leeds are just one point behind Bristol in the all-important fourth place but, importantly, have a game in hand over the south-west club as the season enters its final stretch.

Blackett, who featured in the Premiership with Carnegie, said: “Leeds are getting their performance together at the right time and have a lot of very good players.

“They are a top-four squad. They will be bitterly disappointed if they don’t make the top four and are in a position now where it’s theirs to lose.

“The young lads there last year are a year older and more experienced and have improved. I can see them doing very well come play-off time if they get in.”

Blackett has credited ex-Carnegie team-mate Tommy McGee – the highly-respected Wharfedale coach who recently turned down the chance to run for the top Rotherham job when Alex Codling leaves at the end of the season – for toughening up Leeds’ set-piece.

“An area of weakness for them was in the scrum but that has been massively improved, thanks to Tommy,” he said, about the Scottish prop who also coaches at Headingley.

“They actually now have a dominant scrum.

“Leeds will be a force and we will have to be at our best to beat them.

“They also have got plenty of pace about them and are very clinical with some dangerous backs. They had two opportunities in the game at Rotherham and took them well.”

Edwards, meanwhile, admits his side are eager to get to grips with their South Yorkshire opponents after an enforced lay-off.

The game at Moseley a week ago was postponed following the adverse weather conditions and is now rearranged for Friday night (7.45pm).

“It is fair to say that we had a some good physical training sessions in the early part of the week as they guys took out their frustrations on one another,” revealed Edwards.

“It was disappointing that Moseley could not get the game on but we have moved on now and we are fully focused on Rotherham this week.”

Edwards, who takes his team back to Headingley for the first time since January after all their much-publicised pitch problems there, has faced some tough selection issues following their last 26-3 win over London Scottish.

“Joe Ford is unlucky to miss out this week but, having looked at our options for this game, we have decided to bring Rory Clegg back in,” he said, about the loanee Harlequins fly-half.

“However, we have kept the back-row the same as against Scottish because of the form shown in that game which means Ryan Burrows starts on the bench which is a big decision, against his former club, but a fair one given the performance by the guys in the game at Hull Ionians.”

Another former Rotherham player looking to impress is prop Ben Harris, currently on loan from Clifton Lane, while the visitors have on-loan Leeds winger Curtis Wilson and also include ex-Carnegie players Alex Rieder and Harry Hannan.

Blackett concluded: “For me, while It’s nice to come back, it’s more important we get a result for Rotherham.

“The game will be a good one and it means a little bit more, with a trophy being up for grabs.

“We have a lot of people coming in and out of the team each year and a number have already signed deals with other teams.

“We just hope those guys give everything before they leave.”

Meanwhile, Rotherham’s own postponed game with Cornish Pirates has been rearranged for Clifton Lane on Wednesday, April 10 (5.15pm).