MEMORIES OF two years ago will give Leeds Rhinos confidence going into tomorrow’s Tetley’s Challenge Cup semi-final against Warrington Wolves.
Rhinos are up against the team who inflicted their heaviest defeat this year, a 24-6 hammering at HJ Stadium in May. But it was a similar story in 2012 when Rhinos faced Wigan Warriors, who had beaten them 50-8 at Headingley in a Super League clash the previous month.
Leeds gained shock revenge with a 39-28 win in the Cup last-four clash and winger Ryan Hall – who scored two tries that afternoon – feels they are capable of doing the same this time. Rhinos lost at home to Bradford Bulls last weekend and have struggled to find their form in the second half of the campaign, but Hall said: “I don’t think that counts for much.
“If you go back to 2012, going into that semi-final against Wigan we weren’t in the best of form and we pulled out probably the performance of the season for us.
“History suggests that with this team – and the majority are still together – the form book doesn’t really matter in big games. We are all experienced in the big games now and I think we know what to do to win these games.
“Warrington seem to be a bit of a bogey side in this competition for us, but we aren’t going to read too much into that. We are going to take it with a clean slate. It has been a long build-up and hopefully we will get out there and find our feet and execute as best we can.”
Rhinos have won only four of their eight Super League matches since the Cup quarter-final victory over Leigh Centurions, but Hall insisted the semi-final has not been a distraction.
“It always seems to happen in our seasons, at this time of the year we have a bit of a lull,” he said.
“I wouldn’t say it is much of a lull, it’s not like a couple of years ago when we got beaten by Wigan by 50 points at home.
“It is a six-point loss here and a two-point loss there. We are not panicking and this could be what we need, a bit of a spark, a catalyst to get going again.”
Warrington are fifth in Super League, two points and a couple of places behind Leeds. Hall said: “They have been a bit like ourselves recently.
“They are a good side, you can see that, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen for them. Every team goes through it, so we aren’t going to read too much into that.
“It’s a Challenge Cup semi-final and we have got to expect the best Warrington side.”
While Hall is known as World’s Best Winger, Warrington have a lethal finisher of their own in Joel Monaghan, who could play tomorrow as a winger or in the centres.
“I don’t know what position he will be, but he has got a great scoring record,” Hall said. “Obviously he knows what to do when he gets close to the line and he is a great finisher. If we can get in the way of him getting the ball, that’ll be quite useful.”
Hall reckons it is a challenge going up against players like Monaghan. “Facing the best players brings out the best in yourself,” he said. “I always like playing in big games against big players and I am sure that’s the same for most players. That’s why we play the game, to play in these games and experience the outcome at the end of it.”
Hall will return to Leeds’ team tomorrow after being rested for the defeat a week ago. Asked if the break has freshened him up, he said: “Hopefully – we will see at the weekend. I can’t predict that at the moment, but the coach felt it necessary for me to have a rest, as he did a couple of players.
“Hopefully that is going to work and get us the job done. I am used to playing every week so I don’t know what it will do for me, but obviously the coach felt it was in my best interests.” Rhinos are a winger down after Ben Jones-Bishop suffered a potentially season-ending knee/ankle injury last week.
But Hall had words of support for his England colleague Tom Briscoe, who has scored just three tries in his last 14 games.
“He is a top-quality winger and he has been part of the England set-up for quite a while,” Hall said.
“He is not shy of the big games and we think he has been doing a useful job for our team. A lot of people don’t see it like that, but we do and we’re not going to put pressure on him.
“People sometimes don’t see the work a player does, they just see the scoresheet and if his name’s not on it he’s had a bad game.
“But it’s certainly not like that. He has been doing a real good job for us and hopefully that will continue this week.”
Leeds Rhinos: Hardaker, Watkins, Moon, Hall, McGuire, Burrow, Leuluai, Aiton, Peacock, Jones-Buchanan, Ablett, Sinfield, S Ward, Delaney, Bailey, Kirke, T Briscoe, Sutcliffe, Walters.
Warrington: Asotasi, Atkins, Bridge, England, R Evans, Grix, Harrison, Higham, Hill, J Monaghan, M Monaghan, Myler, O’Brien, Ormsby, Ratchford, Russell, Waterhouse, Westwood, Wood.
Referee: Phil Bentham (Warrington).