VETERAN centre Keith Senior believes Leeds Rhinos need to take the battle to champions Wigan Warriors at Headingley Carnegie.
Senior described Rhinos’ form so far this term as “a bit scratchy and tentative”, but he is confident they can pull off a famous win, if they put both sides of their game together.
Rhinos produced their best defensive performance of the season in last Sunday’s 28-6 win at Wakefield, but failed to score in the first half and made a series of handling errors throughout.
“Last week we focused on our defence and our attack wasn’t so good,” Senior reflected.
“We are trying to get the right balance and we need to be more consistent. We know we can do it, we can score tries and we have shown we can defend.
“It is a matter of putting it all together in a single game. When we do that we’ll get a bit of confidence and belief from that and we will kick on.
“We are still a quality side, we just need to be a bit more consistent in what we are doing.”
Only a top-quality performance will be good enough for Leeds – who have won four and lost three so far – this evening, but Senior feels Wigan are the right opposition to bring that out.
“Warrington and Hull have shown how you need to play against Wigan,” Senior stated. “You need to be very aggressive in the tackle and cut down their time.
“That is something we will be working on. Our attack was poor against Wakefield, but our defence improved 10-fold and that will definitely put us in good stead.
“We need to get in their faces and intimidate them a bit, that is how we need to go about it.”
Honours were even in four meetings last year, with each team winning one at home and away.
Senior admitted: “That has always been our problem as a team – we don’t want to disrespect the so-called lesser teams, but we do struggle to get up for those types of games. We take it for granted we are going to turn up and win, but when we are playing teams like Wigan we have to be 100 per cent switched on.
“Attitude looks after itself. We are not too worried about past-performance, when Wigan come to Headingley we know we are going to be up for it.”
Warriors – who suffered their first defeat of the season when Warrington Wolves won at DW Stadium last Friday – have added to their squad since last year’s title triumph, with Brett Finch, Jeff Lima and Ryan Hoffman coming in from Melbourne Storm.
“It was Finch’s first game last week,” Senior observed. “He is their main organiser, so he will still be finding his feet.
“They have got a bit of aggression up front with Lima, but they have lost Stuart Fielden long-term, so that’s a straight swap.
“They are a quality side and they showed that last year, so we have to make sure we control the game, otherwise it will turn into a scrap.”
Rhinos have lost two of their three home games so far this year, a solitary win over Salford being sandwiched by defeats to Harlequins and St Helens.
“The Harlequins game was one we could and should have won,” Senior said. “Against Saints it was in the balance for 60 minutes and in the last 20 we fell apart a bit. We have to improve and this is a good game to do that.”
Lee Smith, who has missed three games due to a hamstring tear, is named in tonight’s initial 19.
Ian Kirke is expected to return after illness and Brad Singleton is also in contention, but Luke Burgess drops out after undergoing knee surgery on Monday.
Rhinos are still definitely without Brett Delaney (foot), Danny McGuire (knee), Jamie Peacock (knee), Ali Lauitiiti (calf), Ben Jones-Bishop (shoulder) and Zak Hardaker (broken finger).
Wigan could be unchanged from last week, but Joel Tomkins and Liam Farrell and also included in their initial 19.
Leeds Rhinos from: Webb, Watkins, Ablett, Senior, Hall, Sinfield, Burrow, Leuluai, Buderus, Bailey, Clarkson, Hauraki, Jones-Buchanan, Pitts, McShane, Cross, Kirke, Smith, Singleton.
Wigan Warriors from: S Tomkins, Goulding, Marsh, Carmont, Charnley, Finch, T Leuluai, Coley, McIlorum, Prescott, Hansen, Hoffman, O’Loughlin, Lima, Mossop, Tuson, Roberts, J Tomkins, Farrell.
Referee: Richard Silverwood (Mirfield).
Kick-off: Tonight, 8pm.