'Couldn't have worked out better': Leeds Rhinos' James McDonnell fit for Challenge Cup tie v Wigan Warriors
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McDonnell made nine successive appearances for Leeds before an arm injury kept him out of last Friday’s 40-18 Super League defeat of Wigan at DW Stadium.
He has been named in Rhinos’ initial 21-man squad for this weekend and his recovery is a boost for the hosts who will be without last Friday’s starting second-rowers - James Bentley and Zane Tetevano - through injury and suspension.
McDonnell confirmed: “I am feeling good, it was more of a precaution than anything. It was a hyperextension of the elbow, I’ve had it before, but it made sense not to rush back.
“There was a bit of a back issue also through the last few games, so it was a smart choice to ease off that week, give myself a prolonged recovery and get back to 100 per cent.”
McDonnell joined Rhinos from Wigan in the off-season and admitted: “That was the one I was really looking forward to, but it has worked out well that we’ve got them again this week and it’s in a big game, so it couldn’t have worked out much better.”
The 23-year-old played only six times for Wigan from 2020-2022, but insisted beating that total inside his first half of a season with Rhinos wasn’t a personal surprise.
“That’s what I worked towards,” he said. “It was nice to be rewarded and to get that opportunity to play consistently and to build week to week.
“That’s what I’ve needed, a bit of consistency in my game and the opportunity to improve. I feel like I’ve got that now and it has made me into a more rounded player and a Super League player.”
McDonnell, who played for Ireland in last year’s World Cup, spent much of 2022 on loan at Leigh and both his then-teams were involved on Challenge Cup final day 12 months ago.
Leigh beat Featherstone Rovers in the 1895 Cup final, but was back with Wigan at that stage, having been called into a second-string side to face Huddersfield Giants the week before those teams met in the showpiece at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
“I went with the squad and watched from the sidelines,” he said of Wigan’s Cup final win over Huddersfield.
“The day itself was unreal, being around the boys and celebrating the win, I want to get that as a player myself.”
Saturday’s tie sees two of the competition’s last three winners go head to head. Rhinos have not won a Challenge Cup tie since lifting the trophy in 2020, while Wigan are looking to defend their title and bounce back from last week’s stunning defeat.
“I think we’ll see a more traditional Wigan performance,” McDonnell predicted. “I think they’ll come out all guns blazing, they are going to step up a level.
“The big test for us is backing it up, but there’s no reason why we can’t. We know we are capable of playing that way and that’s the way we want to carry on the season.”