Defiant Keiron Cunningham says champions St Helens are determined to prove the critics wrong when they face Leeds in Friday’s Headingley blockbuster.
Saints are in danger of slipping out of the play-offs positions following three straight losses in Super League since being knocked out of the Challenge Cup by the Rhinos.
We want to be underdogs and be written off, so we can wipe the smirk from a few people’s facesKeiron Cunningham
The run of poor results has predictably cast a miserable mood over the club.
But Cunningham says too many people have been quick to press the panic button. He said: “People seem quite dour about the situation we are in – our season is over, derailed. But we’re happy if people think that.
“We want to be underdogs and be written off, so we can wipe the smirk from a few people’s faces.
“We want to be involved in the big games and finals, but as much as you feel you deserve to be involved in them, you have to earn the right to be there. We are coming to terms with that as a club.”
Saints have yet to beat Leeds in three meetings this year but travel to Yorkshire refreshed. “The two-week break has probably been good for us,” Cunningham said.
“We played in the World Club Challenge and through to the Challenge Cup semi-final, so the only week we have missed all season has been the final. We have had a hangover since the semi-final and haven’t been at the races.
“We haven’t been far off, though. We are close but we know we have to do better.”
Privately, Cunningham may be hoping the Yorkshire giants are suffering from an emotional hangover after their 50-0 Wembley thrashing of Hull KR on Saturday.
But he admits Leeds are the team to beat and rates their backline of Zak Hardaker, Ryan Hall, Tom Briscoe, Kallum Watkins and Joel Moon as peerless.
“They are a great team and are led by some great leaders,” he said. “We have been in that situation too and at times you almost feel untouchable.
“They are in a purple patch, playing good football and as a comp’ we have to try to catch up with Leeds.
“Their back five is probably the best in the world and they have strike across the board. They play carefree and without structure, and that makes them hard to defend against.”
Kick-off on Friday is 8pm.