Grand Finalists desperate to make up ground
Leeds Rhinos and St Helens will be looking to make up ground on the front-runners when they kick off Sky Sports’ Monday night Stobart Super League action.
Tomorrow’s round 14 clash at Headingley is a repeat of last October’s Grand Final but both teams find themselves out of the top five at the half-way stage after an indifferent first half of the season.
Saints also crashed out of the Challenge Cup last weekend and Leeds coach Brian McDermott is expecting a backlash from the visitors.
“I am sure Saints will come out fired up after their loss to Wigan and the end of their hunt for the Challenge Cup this year,” he said.
“We had a big win at Leigh but that was expected of us and we did what we needed to do.
“We have both had a lengthy build-up to this game and it will be interesting to see how a Monday night fixture affects both teams as we are very much going into the unknown.
“We have rejigged our training schedule this week to try and keep our build-up as normal as possible.”
Leeds are through to the last four of the cup but slipped further down the table after losing at Hull FC in their last league game.
“We can now turn our focus solely on Super League,” added McDermott. “We want to climb the table and we have a good chance to do just that against Saints on Monday with them being a point ahead of us.
“However, importantly this is also a chance for us to gain some momentum with a run of tough games coming up, starting on Monday night.”
The Rhinos are also still smarting from a 46-6 hammering at Langtree Park back in March in St Helens’ first game under caretaker coaches Mike Rush and Keiron Cunningham.
Saints’ only defeats since the sacking of coach Royce Simmons have been at the hands of Wigan Warriors in the cup and league and, with another derby next up at the Magic Weekend in Manchester, Rush knows the pressure is building on his team.
However, he insists his players have put their cup disappointment behind them and have their eyes firmly set on a seventh consecutive appearance at Old Trafford.
“It focuses the mind, playing Leeds,” he said. “We had video review on Monday and it was good to get that out of the way so the players knew where they went right and wrong.
“Our target doesn’t change, it is the Grand Final and winning it. That is our goal. Where we have to do it from, we’ll look at that later in the year.
“Our challenge is to finish as high as we can so we give ourselves the best opportunity to win it.
Both teams have had timely injury boosts, with Leeds welcoming back centre Kallum Watkins and experienced forward Tony Puletua returning for Saints. Both have been out since Easter with knee and shoulder problems.
Leeds captain Kevin Sinfield goes into the game needing one point to reach 3,000 for the club. The Rhinos’ all-time leading scorer has reached his total of 2,999 in 415 games since making his debut in 1997.