Leeds out to unlock miserly Wolves
Leeds Rhinos will aim to become the first team to score a point against Warrington Wolves for four weeks when the Engage Super League leaders visit Headingley in red-hot form tomorrow night.
The Wolves have amassed a staggering 254 points in their last three League and Cup matches against Keighley, Castleford Tigers and Swinton while keeping a clean sheet each time and have the chance to open up a two-point gap at the top of the table.
“There is no getting away from the fact that they are a very good side who will come to Headingley full of confidence,” admitted Leeds coach Brian McDermott.
“The Wolves are potent with the ball and very strong defensively. We know that we are going to have to be very good to compete with them and hopefully we will be able to come up with a performance that is worthy of a win.”
It is five years since Warrington’s last victory at Headingley but they have won their last two meetings with the Rhinos, including the Carnegie Challenge Cup final last August, and are favourites to complete a notable League double following a 40-18 triumph at the Halliwell Jones Stadium in March.
“We’ve only beaten Leeds in Super League once since I’ve been here,” said Warrington’s former Rhinos coach Tony Smith. “If the record counts for anything, it hasn’t been terrific.
“But each game is different and each season is different. We’ll show them enough respect but we feel we’re playing all right at the moment.
“We’re working hard for one another. We’re in a good place. The test for us is whether we can keep that form going.”
Warrington’s Leeds-born centre Ryan Atkins, who has scored four of his side’s 45 tries in the last three weeks, believes it is a realistic target to nil their opponents for a fourth successive match.
“That’s our aim,” he said. “We’re focused on defence and just letting our attack look after itself. As long as we defend the way we have been, I’m sure Leeds will find it hard to break us down.
“We’ve worked really hard on our defence and bought into the new structures that Tony and the coaching staff have come up with.
“They were in place last year and Tony has just tweaked them a little bit. Now we’re flying with them.
“When you’ve got players as brave and enthusiastic as Benny Westwood, Adrian Morley and Louis Anderson, who lead by example, it makes you want to defend as well as them. You don’t want to be the player that lets the team down.”
Leeds have suffered a major blow with the loss of veteran centre Keith Senior with a season-ending knee injury but hope to have both full-back Brent Webb and stand-off Danny McGuire back.
“In an ideal world we would probably give them another week but we don’t live in an ideal world and the guys know that they may need to play through the pain barrier,” said McDermott.
“We will take advice from the medical staff before we make the final decision and won’t risk them if there is a danger of making the situation worse.”
Warrington are virtually injury-free, with England scrum-half Richie Myler making a timely return from a fractured eye socket in place of teenager Gareth O’Brien, who would probably have made way for him even before sustaining a serious knee injury last week.
“Our injury list is relatively small compared to some others and I think that helps in maintaining form, being able to rotate players,” said Smith.
“When you are having to play people who are half busted, your form can suffer because of it.”
St Helens’ chronic injury situation is easing ahead of tomorrow’s home game against bottom club Crusaders RL.
The Welsh club’s hopes of first win over Saints at the sixth attempt are not helped by the return of half-backs Jonny Lomax, Kyle Eastmond and Lee Gaskell, along with forwards Josh Perry and Andrew Dixon.
But Crusaders have hooker Lincoln Withers and second rower Jason Chan back from injury and former Bradford Bulls and Warrington winger Stuart Reardon believes his side are capable of springing a surprise.
“St Helens are a dangerous side,” he said.” But we’ve got a few players back from injury and, after the win over Wakefield, we’re heading into this game with a lot of confidence.”