World champions Leeds Rhinos won’t get drawn into a pitch battle.
Rhinos are refusing to be intimidated by the prospect of playing on Widnes Vikings’ 4g i-surface at Stobart Stadium tomorrow.
Boss Brian McDermott admits he isn’t a fan of ‘plastic pitches’, but insists his players are focusing on the opposition rather than the ground.
Wakefield Trinity Wildcats’ former Rhinos full-back Richie Mathers hit out at Vikings’ artificial turf after his side’s season opener there earlier this month.
And Widnes will go into tomorrow’s game without Ben Kavanagh, who snapped an Achilles in last Sunday’s home defeat to Salford City Reds – an injury Vikings officials claim had nothing to do with the playing surface.
Rhinos regularly train on the new 3g Archie Gordon field at Kirkstall and McDermott said: “I think for one game only, we will be all right.
“For us, I don’t think it’s too much of an issue. We train on a 3g field when needed, but we do know we need to get on grass every now and then.
“I would not like to play on there [the i-pitch] every week. I don’t envy Widnes, I’m not a fan of these pitches to play on week in and week out.”
The Leeds boss said artificial pitches could become the way forward as technology improves, but that stage hasn’t yet been reached.
“I don’t think there’s any better surface than grass,” he added.
“At the moment I think the 50-50s, that Huddersfield and Wigan have, are the best way forward – I think that’s the route to go down. I recognise we need to find a
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way to make sure games go ahead, it’s ridiculous that we still can’t guarantee that.
“If a good artificial alternative becomes available at some stage that’ll have to be looked at, but at the moment there’s nothing better than turf and grass.”
McDermott has described tomorrow’s game – which kicks-off at 2pm – as “huge” for his team, nine days after their Heinz Big Soup World Club Challenge win over Manly Sea Eagles.
“We are back to the league,” he reflected. “What we aim to do is be consistent. We’ve got a big challenge, not just at Widnes, but throughout the league.
“Warrington and Huddersfield and Wigan and St Helens have set an early marker down, so we want to get some consistency.”
Leeds are up there to be shot at, but McDermott stressed he doesn’t feel his team are under any added pressure because of the world champions tag.
He said: “We’ve been wearing a bullseye on our heads since spring time last year, when we lacked a bit of form and we were a bit inconsistent.
“Everybody wanted to take us on because they sniffed a bit of blood. They are coming at us for different reasons now.
“We’re not really bothered what the reasons are, we do know people will raise their game against us.
“That’s no surprise to these fellas, who’ve been in this arena for a while now. Widnes will think they are getting us at just the right time and I’m sure they’ll be up for it.”
Meanwhile, Rhinos prop Luke Ambler has joined hometown club Halifax on a month’s loan and is set to make his debut in tomorrow’s Northern Rail Cup tie at home to Featherstone Rovers.
McDermott said: “We would have liked a Super League team.
“At this stage there’s no real slot for Luke at the club and we recognise that he needs to be playing against men.
“He’s not that far off playing with us, but we’ve got a big squad and there’s some blokes playing this weekend who’ve not played since the start of the year.
“He’s one of those in that queue. There’s some games at Championship level that aren’t far off Super League, so he won’t be missing out on too much.
“Halifax have got a good coach in Karl Harrison and I know some of the structure stuff they do will do him good.”