McDermott: Rhinos must peak in Pergignan
Leeds Rhinos coach Brian McDermott says the defending champions must produce their best performance of the year if they are to get past Catalan Dragons in Perpignan tomorrow.
The Rhinos’ Stobart Super League crown goes on the line in the preliminary semi-final at Stade Gilbert Brutus, where the Catalans have become near-invincible in front of their passionate and vocal fans.
The Dragons are vulnerable on their travels, as they illustrated with last Friday’s 46-6 hammering at Wigan, but they have lost just once in Perpignan this year and have accounted for Leeds in each of the last two seasons.
“Should we get this win, I think it will probably be on the back of our best performance of the year,” McDermott said.
“It will need to be. Whoever wins is 80 minutes away from the Grand Final so there’s your motivation and you pretty much don’t need to say any more than that.
“But they under-performed against Wigan and that is something they will want to fix up. It’s also in their backyard, which is a difficult place to go.
“We have the South Stand which you’d call a bit of a weapon because it’s intimidating but they’ve got four South Stands.
“It’s everywhere you look, there are people cheering and booing and appealing for absolutely everything. It’s a hard place to play. That’s one of the strengths they have.
“To get the job done, we’ll have to do something above and beyond what we’ve been doing for the last few weeks.”
Leeds’ chances of remaining on course for a successful title defence have been dealt a major blow with the loss of prop Kylie Leuluai, who will sit out only his second game of the season because of suspension.
The Catalans, on the other hand, are set to be boosted by the return of fiery front-rower David Ferriol, who missed the Wigan Warriors defeat but will be out to make a big impression on his final home appearance as he prepares to retire to his vineyard.
Dragons coach Trent Robinson is also considering gambling on the fitness of former Bradford Bulls and St Helens stand-off Leon Pryce, who only started running a week ago after undergoing minor knee surgery.
Pryce has missed his side’s last three matches and Robinson will not reveal his hand until an hour before kick-off but McDermott expects his side to face the former Great Britain star.
McDermott played alongside Pryce when he made the first of his nine Grand Final appearances for the Bulls in 1999, a record that was matched last October by another former Bradford team-mate, Jamie Peacock, who will be at the heart of the Leeds’ effort tomorrow.
“I should imagine he’ll play,” McDermott said. “If Leon is 50-50, he’ll play. I can’t see them resting him for this game.
“He shows up in these big games - that’s what he’s known for, that’s what he’s good at, stepping up and nailing these big games.
“He loves getting the ball in his hands and taking on defences and I’m sure he’ll be looking forward to doing that.”
Pryce, who turns 31 three days after the Old Trafford showpiece, has the chance to become only the second player to appear in Super League Grand Finals for three clubs.
Lee Gilmour currently holds the distinction on his own after playing in title deciders for Wigan, Bradford and St Helens.