The big games keep coming for Leeds Rhinos.
For the fourth successive week Rhinos will face one of their top-four rivals when they take on Wigan Warriors in the final game of the Magic Weekend’s opening day at Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium on Saturday.
So far the Super League leaders have come through their toughest spell of the season with flying colours and veteran front-rower Jamie Peacock is calling for more of the same this weekend in a game he reckons will feel “like a cup final”.
The Etihad is a big stage and Leeds will be up against the reigning Super League and Challenge Cup holders in a repeat of a league encounter from 15 days earlier, which Rhinos won 28-12 at Headingley Carnegie.
Peacock said: “We are all looking forward to it. We have got a bit of time off first to refresh and get ready to go for what is going to be a really tough game against Wigan again.
“I enjoy playing at the Etihad and it is like playing in a cup final, particularly playing the last game of the day. There will be a big crowd in there and it will be enjoyable. They are making more tickets available this year and that’s good news.
“It will be fantastic, there’ll probably be 40,000 people in there all hating Leeds! It is good playing on the big stage, but we want to go out there and win. We know Wigan are going to present a massive challenge for us and we are not going to under-estimate them at all. We know we are going to have to crank it up to play them.”
Wigan will hope to field a stronger team than the one which was beaten at Headingley. Inspirational skipper Sean O’Loughlin missed that game after having to pull out late on due to a groin problem.
O’Loughlin is perhaps the ultimate big-game player and Peacock admitted it will make Rhinos’ job even tougher if he features this weekend. “Wigan have got a strong system and a strong culture, which allows them to cope with players missing,” Peacock observed.
“I imagine Lockers will be back for Saturday, he likes the big games and the finals and he really adds to them. He is not only an important player in himself, but I think he probably gets an extra five or 10 per cent out of everyone around him. That’s what good players do.”
The meeting at Headingley earlier this month was an intense contest which was closer then the final scoreline suggests.
It was the first of what could be up to six clashes between two of the British game’s biggest names this season, but Peacock doesn’t regard playing Wigan twice in three games as too much of a good thing.
“We just get on with it,” Peacock stressed. “That’s how it is, that is how the fixtures have fallen. After the last game I don’t think it will put anybody off, I think it’s more likely people will want to come and watch it.”
Saturday will see Leeds bid for a sixth straight league win and eighth in all competitions. “We are going all right,” Peacock said. “Nothing is won at this time of year, but it gets you into a good position to go on and win things and that’s the key.
“We are playing well and it is about continuing and doing that in the big games at the end of the year.”
Peacock played the full 80 minutes of Rhinos 22-14 win away to Castleford Tigers last Thursday – despite coach Brian McDermott’s repeated efforts to give him a breather.
Said the prop: “I tried politely to say ‘can I stay on’. Normally I scream and shout. I thought my experience would probably help the team and so I thought I’d like to stay on. Normally I come off, but I wanted to stay out there, because it was a good game to play in.”
It’s rare for any prop to play the full game in Super League and doing it at the age of 36 made Peacock’s performance last week all the more remarkable.
He said: “It is pleasing when you do it. Your job is to go out there and work as hard as possible for the team. That is what I am trying to do at the moment and things are going okay for me.”
The win was a good one for Leeds, proving they can come from behind and tough out a victory in a close game, played in testing conditions.
Leeds have recorded some big wins this term, but Peacock said: “That one was more difficult, we came from behind and they have been the best attacking team in Super League at home, so to keep them to nil in the second half was a good effort.”
The former England man was impressed with the fight put up by Tigers, who were playing their second game in five days. The home side were 8-0 ahead early on – the biggest deficit Leeds have faced this year – and led 14-12 at the break.
“They are a good side,” Peacock said. “Daryl (coach Daryl Powell) has established a good culture and they are rightly where they are in the table.”
Cas finished third from bottom last year and Peacock feels it is good for the competition to see them in the top-four.
“Castleford and Widnes have been fantastic, it is really good,” Peacock said. “But the key for them – I say this all the time – is for their players not to be happy to make the top-eight.
“Often you see players whose goal is to make the eight and then they get in the play-offs and perhaps don’t raise their game. Maybe that’s what these teams need to do. It is all right getting in the eight, but it is about trying to go on and win the comp afterwards.”
Peacock reckons Tigers are genuine contenders. He added: “They are – they hammered Warrington at home, they were in front against us and they beat Wigan.
“They were in front against St Helens and should have won that game.
“You can say they have got the credentials for sure.”
Meanwhile, Peacock is also looking forward to a big night in another sport after being chosen as part of Leeds boxer Josh Warrington’s support team for his Commonwealth featherweight title defence in Leeds next week.
Warrington has asked Peacock to carry his title belt into the ring ahead of the fight, on Wednesday, May 21. The 23-year-old will be making the second defence of his title after stopping Leicester’s fighting binman Rendall Munroe in Manchester last month.
The first boxing show staged at First Direct Arena will be televised live on Sky Sports and Peacock said: “I am looking forward to it.
“I am really delighted he has asked me and I think Josh has got the chance to go on and do big things, not only in the boxing world, but for the city of Leeds as well. I am really privileged to be asked by him. I know him through a mate, most of my mates are Leeds United fans and Josh is a big United fan. I’ve seen him a few times and it’s come through that.
“I was a bit shocked to be asked, but it is fantastic they have brought boxing to the Arena.” Peacock has yet to practice his ring walk, but joked he is tempted to emulate wrestling star Stone Cold Steve Austin –by leaping on the ring ropes to show the belt to the crowd. He said: “I don’t know what I am supposed to do yet, but I might Stone Cold it!”
According to stats experts Opta, Peacock made 222 metres against Castleford, with a personal best of 34 carries. He also made more than 200 metres in the Super League meetings with Huddersfield Giants, St Helens and Wigan Warriors.
LEEDS RHINOS under-19s scored 34 unanswered points in the second half as they powered to a 44-10 win over Castleford Tigers at MAH Jungle.
Robbie Ward crossed twice and other try scorers were Jordan Lilley, Ben White, George Milton, Josh Walters, Billy McDermott and Ash Handley. Joe Sanderson kicked six goals.
Will Maher and Lee Alderson got Tigers’ tries and Jordan Howden landed a conversion.