TONIGHT’S DERBY at Castleford Tigers is a chance for Leeds Rhinos to prove how far they have come this season – and show they are genuine title contenders.
A Leeds win would secure second place in the Betfred Super-8s table and a home semi-final – against the side finishing third – on Friday, September 29.
But Rhinos are on a seven-game losing run against Castleford, including three defeats this season and were embarrassed 66-10 at the Jungle in March.
Captain Danny McGuire insists Rhinos are a better team than their recent record against Tigers suggests and he said the first priority for tonight is to put in a good performance.
“I think we’ve played well against them for about 60 minutes this year in three games,” he conceded.
“We have had a couple of decent halves or 30-minute stints – at the Magic Weekend and in the home game – but we haven’t put a full-80 in against them and really taken it to the wire.
“That’s what Cas have been very good at this year. They have been really clinical.
“They have got some really good players and it looks like they have a really committed work ethic for each other.
“I think it is really important for us – especially for the next month and what we have got in front of us – that we go there and play well.
“That’s it. We have got to focus on ourselves.
“We have looked at what Cas are doing, but we have to make sure our game is in order and our attitude is in the right place and we will go there and give it a good shot, because I think when we are on we are a good team.”
With the teams occupying first and second place in the table, tonight’s game could be a Grand Final dress rehearsal.
“That’s obviously a bit of a way down the line,” McGuire stressed.
“Potentially we could meet again later on and they have had the wood over us now for seven games, going back a couple of years, so it would be nice if we could address that this week.
“But we know there are going to be some bigger games down the line. It is just about getting our performances in order and making sure we are all doing the right thing over the next few weeks.”
Tigers have nothing to play for in the table, but McGuire predicted they will not be holding back.
“Not against Leeds,” he warned. “Daryl [Powell, Tigers’ coach] will be heavily-motivated having played and coached with us and it is a local derby.
“Their fans are passionate and I have never seen as many Cas shirts around near where I live.
“They are all really proud of how they are playing and so they should be, but we have got to make sure we go there and wear our shirt with pride and put in a good performance.”
Rhinos’ last win against Castleford was a 26-12 success at the Jungle in April, 2015.
Winger Greg Eden will be aiming to extend his remarkable scoring record against Rhinos this year, having touched down seven times – two hat-tricks and a single – in the three games so far.
Luke Gale is also in impressive form against Leeds, with points in his last 10 meetings with his hometown club.
Despite Tigers’ recent dominance, Rhinos hold the upper hand in Super League meetings between the teams with 29 wins to Castleford’s 18. There have also been three draws.
Tigers forward Nathan Massey is set to make his 200th career appearance tonight.
He has played 172 games for Tigers since 2007, to go with loan/dual-registration appearances for York (13), Keighley (one), Gateshead (one) and Featherstone (three).
Fellow Cas packman Mike McMeeken is one appearance was from a century in Super League (34 for London Broncos, plus 65 so far with Castleford).
Rhinos winger Tom Briscoe needs three tries to reach 150 for his career. He has touched down 45 times for Leeds, to go with 90 tries for Hull and 12 for England.
Team-mate Kallum Watkins’ next Super League try will be his 100th in the competition.