Rhinos coach still driving for the winning line

HARINGEY Rhinos’ head coach Rubert Jonker insists that he has not lost his focus on the league title, despite being shaken by three successive defeats.

The 31-year-old, who also plays for the north Londoners at New River Stadium on White Hart Lane, initially led his side to a perfect start with wins in the first four fixtures.

Rhinos took an early lead in London Division 3 North-West, but their charge to the top has been followed by an equally dramatic slump, with three defeats in a row leaving them down in fifth place, nine points off the lead.

Jonker reveals that injuries and player unavailability have cost his side dearly. But, having tipped his side for the top spot in pre-season, he has seen no reason to change his mind.

“We’ve won four and lost three so it’s not the best,” The South African told the Journal. “We’ve had so many injuries and people unavailable. I’m looking for excuses but two weeks ago we had 13 players unavailable for a match, so that’s made it very difficult.

“I would say we had our full complement for the first two games, and after that we’ve suffered a lot of injuries and people missing through work commitments, which I can understand but at this level it’s all about the simple things – getting people turning up to training and that kind of thing.

“We’ve suffered some fairly serious injuries and Daniel Thompson, our prop, has been to see all kind of doctors and specialists for a back problem. I think he’ll be out long-term, which has really weakened our pack.

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“But I’m not too worried. It’s still early in the season and I’m still keen on winning the league. I still can’t see any reason why we can’t do that. We’ve played seven games and the games we’ve lost could just have easily been our victories.

“I think the tough part will be around January, when the weather’s bad and people don’t really want to get back into it after New Year. If we can get some momentum up going into Christmas, and have a steady run, then I think we’ll be well placed.

“A few of our players were selected for Middlesex the other day, so this club is making major steps forward.”

Scrum half Jade Murphy, back rows Felix Jakes and Gareth Evans and front row Adam Berry were all picked for the county’s representative side, which faced Hertfordshire last Wednesday, but otherwise it has been a quiet fortnight for the Rhinos.

With no fixture at the weekend, Haringey have had time to reflect on their last-gasp 23-20 home defeat to Datchworth on October 30, when a late penalty kick consigned them to another defeat.

The Rhinos are back in action this weekend, and with a mouth-watering fixture to savour, as Jonker’s outfit host league leaders Fullerians.

“They’re top and it should be a good challenge, “said the coach. “These are the kind of games that we need to be winning if we’re going to win the league.

“Everyone’s had two weeks off so that should have been enough time to shake off some of the niggly injuries, and everybody’s really up for it and looking forward to it.

“It’s such an up and down league. It’s not just us who have had a funny set of results, it’s all over the board. Teams who are at the bottom suddenly play really well, and the teams at the top lose one or two and drop down.

“I think the team who can show the best consistency this season will give themselves a real shot at promotion.”

Jonker also feels that his side have failed to take advantage of a new rule, where teams are awarded a bonus league point if they score four tries or more, or lose by seven points or less in a match.

“That can make a really big difference because that one extra point can take you an extra place up the table. I think we’re one of only two teams who have only scored two bonus points,” he said. “You can lose a game and get overtaken by a team who have also lost – just not as badly.

“I think it’s a good idea though. It’s a positive move towards running rugby, keeping the ball out wide. I’d always prefer to see that than slow, narrow rugby.”

Haringey Rhinos host Fullerians at New River Stadium this Saturday, kicking off at 2.30pm.