Leeds Rhinos v Featherstone Rovers: Testimonial clash is ideal preparation - McDermott

Brian McDermott.
Brian McDermott.
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Tonight’s clash of the champions will be ideal preparation with two weeks to go to the new Super League campaign, according to Leeds Rhinos boss Brian McDermott.

The Super League Grand Final winners have opted to play Co-op Championship counterparts Featherstone Rovers in their only full-scale trial game, rather than face top-flight opposition.

But McDermott insisted: “It will be a good enough test, we’ve no doubts about that.”

Tonight’s game is Rob Burrow’s testimonial, but McDermott said Rhinos are treating it like they would a league or cup match.

“They are a very competitive outfit with a number of recently ex-Super League players in their team,” he said.

“We know Daryl (Powell, Rovers’ coach) is doing a great job with them. They are well-coached and well-drilled.

“They will provide a sufficient challenge for us to go into Super League.”

Rhinos fielded a mixture of first team players and fringe men in their Boxing Day win over Wakefield Trinity Wildcats.

An under-20s team lost narrowly at York City Knights last weekend and a similar line-up is expected to turn out at Hunslet on Sunday and Whitehaven seven days later.

That means tonight will be Rhinos’ only full-scale trial before they begin their title defence at home to Hull KR in exactly a fortnight’s time.

“It has been deliberate,” McDermott said of his team’s pre-season schedule. “I don’t think you need game after game after game.

“With current training techniques and the content of what we do in training we can simulate game day far better than we could 10-15 years ago.

“I remember as a player we’d have to go through two or three warm-up games to get match fit. Things are far more advanced now.

“The old adage of ‘you need to get match fit’ is still there, but it’s not quite as important now. You don’t need three or four games to warm up, you can get that out of one.”

McDermott has left England duo Kevin Sinfield and Jamie Peacock out of tonight’s team. He added: “We want to play well, but we are still two weeks away from the start of the season.

“Pre-season only lasts eight or nine weeks anyway, but if I was asked whether I would prefer an extra week’s preparation or an extra week’s rest I would go for the extra week’s rest every time.

“These players need a break after the season and we won’t touch that. Their bodies and their minds need to recover.

“That can affect pre-season, but with the way things have changed I don’t think pre-season is the biggest part of our year.

“It is important, but we still make progression, gains and improvements physically throughout the year.

“Blokes end up lifting more and becoming fitter people towards the back end of the season. We don’t get to the end of pre-season and then maintain from there.”

Rovers have been the best team outside Super League for the past two years, but their coach Powell sees tonight as the ultimate challenge.

“It is a great opportunity for the players to go and show what they are about,” said the former Leeds team boss.

“We are proud to be involved in Rob’s testimonial and it should be really good for us all round. It will be a challenge and we’ll see how we go against top opposition.”

Powell added: “Physically they are a pretty formidable outfit and they’ve got smart players in every position.

“It will be interesting to see how we stand up physically and tactically we need to play a pretty smart game.

“We need to challenge them when we’ve got the ball. I am looking for us to play with a bit of confidence and not be overawed by the ground, the size of the crowd or the people in front of us.

“I think it will be great for us in terms of our growth as a group of people.”

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