LEEDS RHINOS coach Brian McDermott is expecting a battle in tonight’s derby at Wakefield Trinity Wildcats.
Rhinos won at 60-6 in a Challenge Cup fourth round tie at Wakefield in April and followed that with a 42-6 home league victory five days later.
But Wildcats are on a three-match unbeaten run since James Webster took over as coach a month ago and with Rhinos struggling for form and still missing key players, McDermott predicted: “It will be much tougher.”
Added the Leeds boss: “They are a completely different beast.They have had a change of personnel, some new people in, some blokes back from injuries, they have some form behind them and a new coach.
“I am predicting a really tough encounter. We have had some tough encounters over at their place and it will be again. The last time we went there we were in great form and they weren’t. We caught them on a good day, but it won’t look anything like that this week.”
A win tonight would take Rhinos a point clear at the top of First Utility Super League, at least until current leaders St Helens’ game at Hull KR on Sunday.
It is also another match closer to next month’s Tetley’s Challenge Cup semi-final against Warrington Wolves.
“We are making slow progress,” said McDermott, whose team snatched a last-gasp 32-31 win over Catalan Dragons five days ago.
“It you analyse that performance there were so many things that weren’t right. At the same time, if you look at the whole situation, Catalan were in form, we had no Kev (Sinfield), Jamie Jones-Buchanan and Kylie Leuluai were missing and Ian Kirke was out as well, so it was very encouraging from some of the young fellas as well.
“Luke Briscoe came in and had a late charge in the game and made a good impact, Josh Walters again made some strides going forward.
“I think Liam Sutcliffe is starting to find his feet. When he carries the ball he is probing and having a dig and I thought our outside-backs are getting somewhere near again.
“To beat an in-form Catalan, it was a big one for us along the road. We are making some gains, but at the same time we conceded too many weak tries, too many soft tries.
“On three occasions you look and think that looks like a weak version of defence. On another couple of occasions they were well-constructed tries and you have to tip your hat to them.
“But too many occasions we were a bit tame near our tryline.”
McDermott reckons Rhinos’ poor recent defensive efforts are largely due to having key players on the sidelines.
“I think it’s a reflection of the personnel that’s out,” he said.
“We’ve got a couple of blokes playing with some bumps and bruises and we’ve just got to get through this heavy, sticky period.
“While we would like to have form this week, we know you’ve got to earn form.
“We are doing that at the moment.
“Everybody is making sure they do what they need to do. A couple of the senior players have made mention that while we are not hitting our straps on the field just yet we have got to recognise that all the players are really bending their back at training.
“They are doing whatever it is they need to do to be good. Form comes to you with that, it is not luck.
“We are working really hard off the field to make sure we get back to where we used to be.”
Rhinos are on a five-match winning run against Wakefield.
Wildcats’ last victory was a 38-18 success on July 30, 2012.
Tonight’s derby will be the 38th Super League meeting between the sides. Rhinos have won 32, with Wakefield victorious in the other five.
Rhinos under-19s are away to Wakefield tomorrow (2pm).