Four months ago Brian McDermott raised a few eyebrows in Rugby League circles by claiming that his Leeds side could win the Grand Final after a comfortable win against the Catalans.
Sounds perfectly reasonable now but this was only a week after the painful 66-10 defeat at local rivals Castleford.
Mac suggested in an interview after the win over Catalans that he believed it after the Cas game but obviously that would have been the wrong time to say it. The result at Wheldon Road clearly hurt the playing staff at Headingley, as have the two subsequent defeats to Daryl Powell’s pace setters.
Anyways no one’s laughing now as since the defeat to the Tigers Leeds have won 12 of their last 17 games to sit 2nd in Super League. In fact two of those five defeats again came against Daryl Powell’s side.
An impressive win at fellow top four side Salford last weekend all but ensures Leeds will get a top four finish when the league splits in a fortnight and the extra home game that goes with it.
The extra home game could be crucial as the Rhinos have only lost twice at home this season.
The Tigers defeat back in March brought back bad memories of last season for the Rhinos faithful when they were dumped into the Qualifiers, the season after winning the treble.
It seemed crazy at the time that Leeds could be where they are now but there’s no doubt the belief Mac has in this Leeds side and there’s no doubt the players are giving everything for him.
No question that some of the Leeds fans still have their doubts, mainly after what happened last season, but they are becoming increasingly confident of a trip to Old Trafford in October. In fact a double is still on the cards with a cup semi against Hull only three weeks away. Gary Hetherington certainly had his doubts if the reports are to be believed that McDermott had only four games to save his job after the Cas debacle.
The next three weeks could shape the Rhinos’ season. They play fourth-placed Hull on Friday before travelling to a near full strength Wigan next week followed by Hull again in the cup at the end of the month.
Three consecutive wins and the double is a real possibility. A top two finish could be crucial after 30 games to keep them away from Castleford, who they are yet to beat this season Whilst no one will really want to go to Castleford in the play off semi I’m sure they would be confident of a result in a one off winner takes all final with all the pressure that rides on it.
Their key men look to be in form at just the right time, Danny McGuire is back to his near best and his partnership with Joel Moon is one of the most potent in Super League, Daryl Powell thinks Paul McShane has been the most effective hooker this year but that accolade for me goes to Matt Parcell. Kallum Watkins is in the tries again, great news too for England fans in a World Cup year, and the unfortunate injury to Ashton Golding has given a chance for young starlet Jack Walker to steal the limelight with impressive performances at full back.
A canny use of the dual-registration system has seen most of their back up players getting plenty of game time in the Championship, giving the Rhinos real strength in depth.
It all points to Leeds being real contenders again. A top two finish is crucial as no side has won a semi final away from home since 2012. Castleford are rightly favourites for the Grand Final and they have won all three fixtures against Leeds this year but anything can happen at the Theatre of Dreams. We’re starting to realise what coach Brian McDermott has been saying for months. Leeds can win the Grand Final.