LEEDS RHINOS’ management are hopeful in-form half-back Danny McGuire will be available for the Good Friday derby at Bradford Bulls – after suffering a hamstring injury in training.
The injury is not believed to be long-term, but McGuire will miss tomorrow’s trip to St Helens and is expected to also sit out the visit of high-flying Huddersfield Giants in six days’ time.
Boss Brian McDermott said: “Danny suffered the injury in the week and tests have confirmed it will need to be rested.”
McGuire’s absence could mean Kevin Sinfield and Rob Burrow teaming-up as starting half-backs for the first time since the Carnegie Challenge Cup semi-final win over Castleford Tigers on August 7 last year.
Paul McShane, who has not featured in the last three games, is included in the squad and could start in place of Burrow at hooker, though rookie Liam Hood – a try-scoring substitute in the last three matches – is another option.
Teenager Stevie Ward, who can play stand-off or loose-forward, is set to make his debut Smith off the substitutes’ bench.
Lee Smith is included in the initial 19 for the first time since suffering a rib injury in the defeat at Wigan Warriors on February 11. He made his comeback in the under-20s last week.
Head of youth Mike Rush will be in charge of Saints’ team tomorrow, assisted by former player Keiron Cunningham, after coach Royce Simmons was sacked on Monday.
McGuire feels the change of regime will make the task even harder for Rhinos, who are also without Ryan Bailey (suspended) and Jamie Jones-Buchanan (knee).
“It’s tough when stuff like that happens,” McGuire said of Simmons’ exit. “But whoever takes over is going to get them up for the game and motivated.
“For them it will be disappointing, but I am sure they’ve all pulled together this week. They’ve got a lot of old heads, people like Paul Wellens and Tony Puletua, who can pull the young lads together.
“I bet they are looking forward to getting out there and trying to put a few things right, so we are going to have to be on our game from the word go.”
Saints are struggling now in a similar way to Rhinos did 12 months ago, but the Leeds man reckons the way they bounced back to win the Grand Final will give the Merseyside outfit confidence they can still be among the title contenders this term..
“We turned it around,” McGuire said. “We had some tough patches last season when things weren’t going our way.
“They have got a lot of quality in their team and they’ve just got to believe they are going to come through the other end, like we did.
“I am sure they are saying all the right things in the camp, just hopefully it’s a week later when they turn it around.”
Rhinos have won six of their seven competitive games this year and McGuire is confident the team can continue their impressive run, without him.
“We’re really happy with how things are going,” said the injured star.
“I think we’ve still got things to work on, but we are definitely heading in the right direction.
“We had a good performance last week against Salford and it is just about being consistent now and playing well for the next weeks and building our form up.
“I think our attack has been good in areas, but I don’t think we’ve nailed a full game yet.
“We can still play better, we were still a bit scratchy at times even though we scored 50-odd points last week.
“There’s lot to work on, but the good sign against Salford was we looked good defensively.
“They scored two late tries, but for the majority of the game we were on the ball defensively and hopefully we can keep going with that.”
In contrast to Leeds, Saints have players coming back from injury this weekend in the shape of James Roby, Ade Gardner and Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook.
Jonny Lomax and Shaun Magennis could also feature, with Jamie Foster, Lee Gaskell and Nathan Ashe dropping out from the team beaten 12-8 at Bradford Bulls a week ago.
St Helens: from Wellens, Makinson, Shenton, Meli, Gardner, Lomax, Wheeler, Laffranchi, Hohaia, Puletua, Wilkin, Dixon, Clough, Perry, Flanagan, Flannery, Roby, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Magennis.
Leeds Rhinos: from Webb, Jones-Bishop, Watkins, Hardaker, Hall, Sinfield, Burrow, Leuluai, McShane, Peacock, Clarkson, Delaney, Ablett, Kirke, Griffin, Moore, Hood, Ward, Smith.
Referee: Phil Bentham (Warrington).
Kick-off: Tomorrow, 6.35pm.