Leeds Rhinos coach Brian McDermott has paid tribute to Leigh Centurions for the way they have serenely navigated through the Qualifiers this year: paying extra credit to coach Neil Jukes.
Jukes took charge on the eve of the new season, and after defeat on the opening day to Batley, Leigh have not lost a game in the league since – including in the Qualifiers, where they have won six consecutive games to seal promotion with two games to spare.
The winner of tonight’s clash at Headingley will seal top spot in the Qualifiers, and McDermott, whose Leeds side are aiming to bounce back from defeat to Huddersfield last week to finish first, heaped praise upon the soon-to-be Super League outfit.
“Even with this format you need to do something – I’m not sure if extreme is the right word but above and beyond – to beat Super League teams and Leigh have done that,” he said.
“They have a very aggressive recruitment strategy, they have brought in a lot of players and are relatively injury-free.”
Speaking about Jukes in particular, McDermott said: “It doesn’t take away from the fact what they have done is really good and coach Neil Jukes needs a lot of credit.
“He’s managed them right from the start. They had a bit of adversity before the start with their previous coach leaving but they have certainly come together, gelled together and done a really good job.”
And taking his praise of the Centurions a step further, McDermott said that nobody will “worry for Leigh” in the top flight in 2017.
“It’s a process you go through where you have to make sure you are in good nick and I don’t think anyone would worry for Leigh playing in Super League next year,” he said.
“I don’t think anyone is thinking they will really struggle. It will be interesting to see how they get on week in, week out and the fact I’ve mentioned that word – interest – means it is working as people want to see how they go on.
“But I don’t think anyone fears for them.”
Leeds head into the game off the back of a short turnaround, having played as recently as Sunday – and McDermott admitted it has been a challenge for his team to contend with ahead of their final fixture of 2017.
“It’s not ideal (four days); it’s too much, too hard but it’s there and we have to deal with it,” he said. “Our first training session was today (Wednesday).
“We had a full week with our awards night on Monday and a fantastic event yesterday for (Leeds president) Harry Jepson’s funeral when we said ‘ta-ra’ to Harry which was great and the right thing to do; that took precedent over everything yesterday.
“In an ideal world we’d have had another couple of days to prepare but we haven’t.”