How Leeds Rhinos handle Yorkshire derbies could shape their season. That’s the view of coach Brian McDermott as Rhinos put the finishing touches to preparations for Sunday’s trip to close neighbours Castleford Tigers.
The hosts are expecting a near-capacity 10,000 crowd and Rhinos will face a hostile atmosphere as Tigers bid to end a run of eight successive defeats.
Rhinos kicked their season off in style with a 36-6 win over Hull eight days ago and McDermott has stressed the need to repeat that level of performance tomorrow.
“There are six Yorkshire derbies in Super League,” he pointed out. “We’ve got to play Castleford, Wakefield, Bradford, Hull, Hull KR and Huddersfield.
“Each one of those is going to be a tough game. I am not interested in where Cas are or where they’ve been, I just know they are going to be bringing near their top performance.
“We are expecting them to be very, very good. If you look at the history of Leeds going to Castleford, it is always a difficult game over there and that’s what we have got to deal with.”
The win over Hull got Rhinos off to a flying start, but McDermott insisted they can be better, particularly with ball in hand.
He said: “I don’t think we were sharp early in the game. Offensively, I thought we were quite a way off in the first half, but defensively we were very strong right from the word go.
“I thought we looked ready for that game and it was a positive start, but there’s still quite a bit we need to improve on.”
Rhinos have just tomorrow’s game and next Friday’s visit of Salford City Reds before they face Melbourne Storm in the World Club Challenge in 13 days’ time.
The need to go into that clash in good form adds extra importance to tomorrow’s showdown.
“We are talking about that,” McDermott admitted. “It’s something on the horizon and something we want to be good for.”
Joe Vickery is facing a six-week lay-off after suffering an ankle ligament injury on his debut last week, so Jimmy Keinhorst is set to take over on the wing.
He scored a brace of tries on his dual-registration debut for Hunslet Hawks last weekend.
Stevie Ward and Kylie Leuluai – who was blocked from playing for Hunslet tomorrow by the UK Border Agency – are also in contention for what will be prop Jamie Peacock’s 200th appearance for Rhinos.
Tigers are still without winger Kirk Dixon (calf), so could be unchanged from the 40-24 defeat at Warrington, though Jordan Thompson and Dan Fleming are on stand-by.
Ward continued his return from a shoulder injury in Rhinos Under-19s’ 56-10 win over Tigers when Jacob Morgan scored a hat-trick of tries and eight goals.
Rhinos’ home fixture against Warrington has been put back to Sunday, April 7, for live coverage on Sky TV.
That will give Rhinos extra time to recover from the previous Monday’s game at Catalan Dragons, which the RFL have confirmed will have a 5.15pm BST kick-off.
Castleford Tigers: from Tansey, Carney, Shenton, Webster, Owen, Chase, Ellis, Mason, Milner, Huby, Gilmour, Hauraki, Holmes, Walker, Clark, Massey, Millington, Emmitt, Thompson.
Leeds Rhinos: from Hardaker, Keinhorst, Watkins, Moon, Hall, Sinfield, McGuire, Bailey, Burrow, Peacock, Jones-Buchanan, Delaney, Ablett, Achurch, Kirke, Clarkson, McShane, Ward, Leuluai.
Referee: Tim Roby (Preston).
Kick-off: February 10, 3.30pm.