David Clegg Reports The Views Of Assistant Coach, Martin Gleeson, Prior To Friday’s Super 8s Visit To Headingley
Although it has been purported, since the inception of the Super 8s and the Qualifiers, that ‘Every minute counts’, the position of the Leeds Rhinos, going into Friday’s fixture with Salford Red Devils, somewhat belies that statement.  Currently, securely ensconced in second place in the super 8s table, and thereby assured of a home semi-final play-off place, the Rhinos may well have rather less to play for than at any time in the season so far.
Whilst being in general agreement over this, Assistant Coach, Martin Gleeson, approaches the situation from a slightly different angle.
“They have absolutely earned that luxury, after a full season of ups and downs Super League action,” he asserts, “and they are now in the position, where, if they choose, they could rest a few of those bumps and bruises present, and turn their attention to getting ready for their semi-final.
“On the other hand, it is their home fixture, and they will undoubtedly want to put in a good performance for the benefit of their own fans.  No matter which way they choose to go, we certainly know we are going to be in for a tough game.”
The whole environment of the Headingley Stadium is one which has distinct aura all of its own, and it was only a couple of weeks ago that Martin had the opportunity of sampling it once again, first hand, in his joint testimonial Yorkshire v Lancashire Legends Match.  On this occasion, however, he found it somewhat different.
“It has a strange aura about it at the minute, because there is no South Stand,” he points out, “so it is a bit weird coming out and having that whole side completely empty, but they can still fit plenty of people around the other sides.
“Despite this, Headingley is still steeped in tradition, and is one of those few grounds still left from the early days of the competition.  We haven’t had the greatest success in our matches there over the years, but we did get close earlier on this season, and we will be going with the intention of trying to get even closer, this time around.”
Those who were present at that first away fixture will remember all too well, just how close the Red Devils came to notching up a very rare victory there, having it snatched away from them, only in the final minute of the game.  We certainly all came away feeling that we should have won.
“Leeds are not known for having a great defensive line, but what they always do, is to scramble well,” Martin explains.  “We made so many line breaks that day, but, each time we thought we had them, they scrambled again and again to stop us.  Then they caught us out in that last minute.”
The return game, at the AJ Bell, proved to be a totally different encounter with the visitors running amok from the outset.
“It was their speed around the ruck that enabled them to catch us out, and we just couldn’t handle them.  We were well and truly beaten, that day,” he acknowledges.  “It was a pressure game, too, to decide who was going to be second, at the end of it.
“That’s where their superior team experience told out, and we showed our naivety as a group, so we just couldn’t cope with them when they went up the gears.”
That having been said, the lead up to this week’s encounter is on the back of a significantly improved performance against Huddersfield, at the weekend.
“After such an unsatisfactory performance against Wakefield, stern words were said, and a couple of players lost their places on the back of it,” he recounts, “but from the very first set, last Saturday, we could tell that they had all taken heed.  They nailed it to a tee, especially in the first twenty minutes of the game; they had the focus and concentration we had wanted.
“It was also good to see, in the second half, that we were getting back to how we had been playing earlier in the season.   It was good to watch.  We also had a lot of our very young players in the side, and it will be very good for the team, in the future, that they have had all this experience.”
So, having now achieved that elusive first win in the Super 8s, there is hope that this can be the fore-runner of further victories before the end of the season.
“This has been our first year in this competition, and there are a number of teams in previous years who have failed to get a single win at all in their introductory season,” he points out.  “So for us to get this first win in our first season is good – it’s good for the club, and it gives us something to build on.”
It was interesting to note that the improvement coincided with the return to half back, of Gareth O’Brien, after two seasons of turning out at fullback.
Martin fully agrees and says, “Gaz was great, as was his understanding with Rob Lui, and they linked up really well together.  Niall Evalds also slotted in well with them, from the back.  All in all, it turned out to be a great performance, and we couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
Referee – Mr L Moore
Touch Judges – R Thompson, J Roberts
In Goal Judges – M Hawkes, A Haigh
Reserve Ref – G Dolan