Leeds Rhinos boss Brian McDermott admits he will be relieved if his side get through their Boxing Day clash with Wakefield Trinity Wildcats injury-free.
But McDermott insists he won’t be losing any sleep over the possibility of Rhinos’ injury jinx continuing in the annual pre-season opener.
A spate of long-term injuries to key players wrecked Rhinos’ hopes of topping the Super League table this year, they have already lost recruit Andy Yates for up to six months after he damaged an Achilles in training and a couple of knocks have forced late changes to Thursday’s line-up. Leeds and Wakefield have both been hit by serious Boxing Day injuries in the past, but McDermott stressed there is no point worrying about what he can’t control.
“Of course getting through without injuries is important,” McDermott said. “But we are battled-hardened in that regard, after what went on last season. Avoiding injury is something that’s on the list of important things on Boxing Day, but I have got to say it is well down the list.
“Nobody should go into the game thinking ‘I hope I don’t get injured’, because if you do that the odds are you will get injured.”
Some of McDermott’s squad have been in training since the start of last month and he said they are itching for a game.
“I think the players are looking forward to it,” the coach added. “After the way we finished last year they can’t wait to get back out there. “We have got a good team out.
“There’s a lot of experience and enough young fellas to provide a bit of experience as well. We are really keen to see the likes of Luke Briscoe [a late replacement for the injured James Duckworth] and Ash Handley on the wings.
“Zak Hardaker is going to play in the halves and that’ll be interesting. I don’t think he will be out of his depth.
“Sutty (Liam Sutcliffe) will continue in the stand-off role, so there’s enough interest and excitement in that team – plus the old stagers Ryan Bailey up front.
“We are also showcasing our new signing Paul Aiton.”
Aiton will make his first appearance against the side he left last month and McDermott reckons that will add spice to a competitive clash.
“We are going to be facing a very competitive Wakefield team,” he predicted.
“They have been through their own process in the off-season and once again it has been a tough one for them, but sometimes that galvanises a group.
“Richard Agar (Wildcats’ coach) has got a great track record of galvanising teams in the face of adversity.
“I am sure he will be bringing a really competitive team who will be using Boxing Day as a platform for their season.”
Rhinos’ only other trial games are next month at Hunslet Hawks for the Lazenby Cup and home to London Broncos in Ryan Bailey’s testimonial match.
McDermott is confident his team will be ready for their Super League opener at Hull KR on February 16, despite the lack of match practice.
“For two or three seasons now we’ve only had one major friendly,” he said. “When you look at the experience of our squad, in terms of games played, I don’t think our squad needs three or four friendlies.
“I think we are quite capable of going into the season without a friendly. In that case I don’t think we’d be too far off in our first Super League game, but that’s a risk we don’t need to take.”
Meanwhile, Rhinos will continue their tradition of holding a minute’s silence before kick-off on Boxing Day in memory of supporters and those connected with the club who have died this year. The club are advising fans to arrive early to avoid congestion at the turnstiles and be in the stadium before the silence begins.
Adult prices on the day are £20 (£13 concessions and £5 juniors aged 16 and under) to stand, £23 for paddock seats (£16 concessions, £8 juniors) and £27 in the Carnegie and North Stands (£20 concessions, £10 juniors).
A £3 discount on adult and concessionary tickets for members expired at 1pm today.