McDermott ready for double challenge
Coach Brian McDermott will be using Wembley as a motivational tool in Leeds Rhinos’ attempt to hang onto their Stobart Super League crown.
The Rhinos have climbed from ninth to fifth in the table after winning their last four league matches to get their title defence back on track and McDermott is confident reaching the Carnegie Challenge Cup final will not derail them.
“It will help us, it won’t distract us,” he said. “Because they (the finals) are so close together, it can either work for you or it can work against you and we will use Wembley.
“We obviously need to be in good nick building up to the final so there’s a focus straight away, about playing well. We cannot afford to take our eye of the ball when it comes to Super League.”
Leeds will look to maintain their double bid when they take on arch rivals Bradford Bulls at Headingley tomorrow night.
The Bulls are also on a roll despite the continuing uncertainty over their future and can leapfrog the champions into fifth spot with a fourth consecutive victory, although their position could be undermined when the Rugby Football League impose a points deduction for going into administration.
The club could discover their punishment just hours before the game but the Bradford players are accustomed to performing in the face of adversity after three times preparing for what could have been their “last match”.
Head coach Mick Potter, who continues to work without pay after being made redundant by the club’s administrator, is expecting a difficult test but admits his side are in form.
“I think form counts in these derby games because form is confidence,” he said. “I think both teams are feeling confident in their own ability.
“They will be favourites and it is a big task for us but it’s not impossible. They play for 80 minutes and are a very fit team but we’re an improving team and we’ll do our best.”
After reaching Wembley, courtesy of last Saturday’s thrilling 39-28 win over Wigan Warriors, Leeds are hoping to top the 20,821 crowd that watched the season’s first derby at Odsal on Good Friday.
The attendance will also be boosted by the decision of Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington to donate proceeds from away ticket sales to Bradford in their fight for survival.
“It was a fantastic gesture from Gary and the Leeds club,” said Potter. “They didn’t have to do that but they understand the importance of Bradford being in Super League.”
Catalan Dragons have another chance to climb into second spot when they entertain fourth-placed St Helens in Perpignan tomorrow.
The Dragons missed the chance to leapfrog Warrington Wolves when they lost to them 10 days ago but closed to within a point after winning their game in hand against Hull FC last Saturday.
Saints, who are on a four-match winning run, will overtake the Catalans if they can avenge their agonising 34-32 defeat at Langtree Park in February, when the visitors came from 26-8 down to snatch the most dramatic of victories with the last play of the match.
“I wasn’t in charge then but we’ve learnt the lessons of that game and we proved that when we played Hull FC, Hull KR and Widnes,” said St Helens caretaker coach Mike Rush.
“We’ve been in the same position and showed we are mentally stronger now. We could have lost points but didn’t.”
Dragons scrum-half Scott Dureau, who converted Daryl Millard’s last-minute try to secure a famous victory at St Helens, believes the French side are perfectly placed to complete the double.
“Hopefully we can have another big game against them,” he said. “We’ve been working on a few things over the last couple of months and a few of them have started to come off, which is good.
“It’s nice to run into a bit of form this time of the season.”
Tomorrow’s encounter marks the 100th in the British game for evergreen Australian forward Steve Menzies, who will be playing his fourth match in three weeks after representing the Exiles against England, while St Helens forward Jon Wilkin will be making his 250th appearance for his club.
Lowly duo Salford City Reds and Widnes Vikings will both be aiming to continue their recent improvement when they meet at the City of Salford Stadium tomorrow.
The Reds have re-ignited their outside play-off prospects by winning their last two games while Widnes lifted themselves off the foot of the table with victory over Castleford Tigers before pushing St Helens all the way in their last game.
“I want the lads to build on their performance against St Helens two weeks ago,” said Vikings coach Denis Betts.
“I’m hoping that after the week’s break, the squad will have recovered from the physical strains of playing against Saints and will be more than ready for the Salford match.
“Hopefully, this will end in us putting in another solid performance as we have done in recent weeks.
“Salford are always going to be a tough opponent, particularly at home. They showed in their victory over Warrington recently that they are a really strong unit and have some great individuals such as Daniel Holdsworth.”