LAST week’s big win over Salford City Reds has not altered Leeds Rhinos’ approach to today’s visit of St Helens, coach Brian McDermott insists.
Rhinos bounced back from successive defeats by running in eight tries in a 46-12 victory against Salford in what was – after a shaky opening quarter – an impressive attacking display.
They also kept the visitors scoreless in the second half and it was the lowest points tally conceded by Rhinos in Engage Super League this year.
That victory lifted morale in the Rhinos camp and gave supporters a glimpse of what McDermott is trying to achieve with his expansive brand of open rugby, but he stressed: “We certainly haven’t been punching the air because we beat Salford a week ago.
“There’s still some areas we need to be better at. Salford caught us early in the game – they caught us cold defensively and that’s something we are trying to eradicate.
“There isn’t a feeling at all that we are on track just because the scoreboard looked different last week to how it looked for the previous few games.”
Saints have also made a stuttering start to the campaign, losing two – both at their temporary home at Halton Stadium, Widnes, – and drawing one – against champions Wigan at Cardiff – in their opening five games.
The arch-rivals, opponents in three successive Grand Finals from 2007 to 2009, began round six in sixth and seventh place in the table, with Saints a point adrift of Leeds.
McDermott, though, sees today as just as much of a challenge as any clash with Saints during the Super League era.
“If you look at the possible transition that club has been going through for 18 months now, I don’t think they are any less of a team or any less dangerous,” he said.
“No team or coach can approach St Helens with anything other than huge respect.
“Some players have left and there has been a change of coaching staff. They had a coach who was there for two years in Mick Potter and he stabilised it for a while and brought the juniors on.
“Then they have brought in another new coach in Royce Simmons and that is another set of philosophies and criteria and systems.”
Rhinos are going through some of the same processes, according to McDermott.
“There are similarities,” he conceded. “I don’t think they are quite going through the same thing – they haven’t been missing eight of their starting 13 out injured – but there will be a period when they need to bed in with what the new coach wants of them.”
Rhinos will be without at least six senior players due to injury this evening.
Ben Jones-Bishop is facing four months on the sidelines following surgery on the shoulder he dislocated last week.
His place on the wing is likely to be taken by Zak Hardaker, who is set to make his Engage Super League debut.
He signed for Rhinos from Featherstone Rovers last summer and was originally set to rejoin his former club on a season-long loan, but that was converted to a dual-registration deal so he could be recalled at any time.
Also definitely out are Brett Delaney (ankle), Kylie Leuluai (pectoral muscle), Ryan Bailey (groin) and long-termers Danny McGuire and Jamie Peacock, who are still recovering from knee reconstruction surgery.
Lee Smith has been named in Rhinos’ squad, but could miss a second successive game due to a hamstring tear,
Ben Cross will return following a one-match ban and Luke Burgess is also set to make his comeback, from a knee problem, with teenage prop Brad Singleton dropping out after his debut last week.
Saints are still without injured trio Leon Pryce, Sia Soliola and Jon Wilkin. Kyle Eastmond has been left out for disciplinary reasons and his place in the halves is likely to be taken by the fit-again Gary Wheeler.
Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook has been named in the squad, but is rated as “doubtful” due to a calf injury.
There is also an injury cloud over Tony Puletua, but Matty Ashurst is vying for a recall.
Leeds Rhinos: from Webb, Hardaker, Watkins, Senior, Hall, Sinfield, Burrow, Jones-Buchanan, Buderus, Cross, Hauraki, Lauitiiti, Ablett, McShane, Clarkson, Pitts, Kirke, Burgess, Smith.
St Helens: from Wellens, Gardner, Shenton, Lomax, Meli, Gaskell, Wheeler, Graham, Roby, Perry, Flannery, Clough, Puletua, Moore, Dixon, Magennis, Foster, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Ashurst.
Referee: Phil Bentham (Warrington).
Kick-off: Today, 5.45pm.