Leeds Rhinos may be famous for slow starts and emphatic ends in Super League, but in 2013 they appear to be an even deadlier beast than usual.
Ahead of their huge derby match against Bradford on Friday, the Rhinos sit fourth in the Super League table, just four points behind leaders Wigan having played two games less than their rivals.
Since the last time Leeds met the Bulls – an exciting 18-18 draw at Headingley in March – the Rhinos have won four key league games, including a 28-22 victory against title rivals Warrington, as well as a 28-12 victory against Castleford in the Challenge Cup.
Kevin Sinfield has, as ever, led his team by example. The captain has scored 49 goals
so far this season, with only Wigan’s Pat Richards and Huddersfield’s Danny Brough having kicked more. The rest of the side have followed suit in terms of scoring points too, with Leeds recording some emphatic victories of late – including last week’s 44-10 away victory against Hull Kingston Rovers.
An early start is not something that Rhinos fans are used to. Despite winning five of the last six Grand Finals, they have only finished the regular season top of the table once in 2009, and their last two victories have followed fifth-place finishes in the regular season.
It will be interesting to see if the Rhinos can continue in the way they have started. For coach Brian McDermott this is a new challenge. Under his tenure, Leeds have never been in the position of entering the play-offs they are on the front foot. A top four place provides the privilege of playing fewer matches and if they finish better than that Leeds can choose who they wish to face in the semi-finals. McDermott’s Rhinos are not used to such luxuries.
But there is, of course, still plenty of rugby before the play-offs commence in September. Wigan will continue to take the challenge to Leeds, whilst Huddersfield and Warrington currently sit ahead of the Rhinos in the table. The Catalan Dragons and Bradford Bulls are breathing down the Rhinos’ necks too, and despite their poor season so far “never write the Saints off” as the old adage goes.
And let’s not forget the Challenge Cup, a trophy which has evaded the Leeds cabinet since 1999, despite appearing in the last three consecutive finals. Some see it as a curse, but Rhinos fans will be desperate to win the trophy after coming so close so many times before.
On the evidence of the season so far, there is no reason why Leeds cannot continue to storm to the top this year, retain their Super League title and finally cross the finishing line in the Challenge Cup.