Kirke poised for Catalan clash
Ian Kirke is ready to step up his efforts to help plug the gap created by the loss of fellow front rower Kylie Leuluai for Leeds Rhinos’ Stobart Super League sudden-death clash with Catalan Dragons in Perpignan on Friday evening.
Leuluai, who has missed only one of the Rhinos’ 34 league and cup matches this year, will sit out the preliminary semi-final after being handed a one-match ban for punching in the last minute of last week’s opening play-off win over Wakefield Trinity Wildcats.
Fortunately for the champions, they have a handy replacement in Kirke, who has recovered from the concussion that forced him to miss the Wildcats game, although coach Brian McDermott admits the absence of Leuluai is a blow.
“He’ll be a big loss,” McDermott said. “Kyle’s been very consistent for the last couple of years and he starts every game nearly.
“People like Darrell Griffin, Ryan Bailey and Ian Kirke have got some shoes to fill there.
“I won’t mention Jamie Peacock because he’s been in outstanding form and they’re all trying to catch up to JP’s performance.”
Kirke was knocked unconscious by an accidental clash of heads on his last appearance, in the final game of the regular season at Huddersfield, and alarmed the club’s medical staff when he stopped breathing for a time, but says he is now fully fit and raring to go.
“It was precautionary and probably a good decision because I feel a lot better now than I did last Saturday,” Kirke said. “I actually felt a lot better the day after the game but you never know with head injuries.
“Obviously I’ve no recollection but they said I had stopped breathing for 10 or 20 seconds which everybody seems to think is a bit concerning but, if I hold my breath for 20 seconds, that’s nothing.
“The issue would have been if I had not started breathing again. It doesn’t really concern me. It was a fairly unlucky thing to happen, he just caught me on the chin.”
Kirke admits Leeds face a difficult test against the Catalans, who have a renowned pack, and especially without Leuluai.
“It’s a massive loss,” he said. “Kylie’s a great player and he’s got better towards the end of the season. He’s had some really good games recently so ideally you’d want him in the team.
“But I think there are some people who can step in and play his minutes. The good thing is he’s not like JP who plays 80 minutes every week. You are only losing your 50 or 60 minutes rather than the full 80.
“I often feel like I can play a bit longer so, if he leaves me out there, I’m sure I’ll be all right.
“It should be a tasty one. Catalan have a big set of forwards and they can play as well. It will be a tough game.”
The Dragons are set to be boosted by the return of Test prop David Ferriol for his final home game after missing last week’s defeat at Wigan.
Former Bradford Bulls and St Helens stand-off Leon Pryce has also been included in Catalan coach Trent Robinson’s 19-man squad despite only resuming training a week ago after recovering from a knee injury.