Five months on and it’s all systems go for Leeds Rhinos’ Super League restart – Peter Smith
IT IS typical of how things have gone for Leeds Rhinos over the past couple of seasons – nobody has played for nearly five months, but they have still managed to drop a place in the table.
Rhinos were third in Betfred Super League when they went into the Covid-19 shutdown, but will come out of it on Sunday in fourth spot, following Toronto Wolfpack’s withdrawal.
Leeds’ last game was a 66-12 win over the Canadian outfit on March 5 which, briefly, lifted them into pole position.
That was 147 days ago. The gap between Leeds’ final match of 2019 and their 2020 opener was 142 days.
With Toronto unable to complete their fixtures this year, their results have been wiped out so Leeds have lost not only two points, but also a significant chunk of their advantage on for and against.
Toronto had been beaten in all their six league games, so more than half the competition are in a similar situation, but – ironically – the only team to lose to them this year have actually benefited.
In the sides’ final game before rugby league was suspended, Wolfpack won a Coral Challenge Cup tie at Huddersfield 18-0.
Giants were fifth in the table at the time, but – having not played Wolfpack in the league – are now up to third, behind Wigan Warriors and Castleford Tigers on for and against and two points above Leeds.
All of which sets things up nicely for Sunday when Leeds and Huddersfield resume their campaign against each other at Headingley.
That is the second part of a double-header which begins with fifth-placed Catalans – another team who have climbed the table because of Wolfpack’s demise – against champions St Helens.
The fixtures had already been confirmed when Wolfpack announced they would not be playing on this year, so their scheduled return against Hull KR – also on Sunday – has fallen by the wayside.
That will be a relief to Emerald Headingley’s ground staff at least, as they now have to prepare for only seven games over the next two weekends, rather than nine – Wolfpack having been due to meet Huddersfield there a week on Saturday.
To add a bit of spice to Sunday’s derby, it is actually Giants’ home fixture – rearranged from February when Storm Ciara made conditions at John Smith’s Stadium unsafe. Leeds, therefore, will use one of the ‘away’ changing rooms, with Giants having ‘home’ facilities.
Both Huddersfield’s defeats this year – including one against Wigan in the league – were on their own turf, but they are unbeaten on the road – against Catalans Dragons, Salford Red Devils, Hull KR and Saints – and probably won’t be too concerned.
There are several sub plots to Sunday’s game.
Leeds winger Tom Briscoe is poised to make his comeback a year to the day after suffering an anterior cruciate ligament injury in a 44-0 win at Huddersfield – and two players could be on debut against their previous club.
Leeds signing Kruise Leeming and Giants’ Ashton Golding both suffered an injury in pre-season and have yet to play for their new club, but are now fully fit after the long coronavirus layoff and available for selection this weekend.
With the season now reduced to a total of 20 rounds, teams with semi-final ambitions have little margin for error. Leeds began the year poorly, losing 30-4 at home to Hull exactly six months before Sunday’s return and will need to be quicker out of the blocks this time.
The big question is, can they pick straight up from where they left off? The break came at a bad time for Rhinos who were in sparkling form, individually and as a team, but with close to a fully-fit squad, they have no excuses.
Though Giants will say the same, the players have returned to training in good shape and morale in the camp is high. Leeds’ members have done their bit, 85 per cent of them rejecting a season ticket rebate, so that should be a bit more incentive for the team to hit the ground running.
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