Our YEP Jury look ahead to Leeds Rhinos’ home clash with Hull FC.
Although I would have liked to have been at Wembley for the Challenge Cup final last Saturday, I did actually enjoy having a week off from the stresses that come with watching Leeds Rhinos regularly.
I couldn’t bring myself to ‘support’ either of the sides involved in the final, but I was happy to see ex-Rhino Gareth Ellis put in a typically strong performance and pick up more silverware in his final year before retiring.
What a player he has been for all his clubs – Wakefield Trinity, Leeds Rhinos, Wests Tigers and now Hull FC.
However, it’s back to business tonight as Cup winners Hull come to town.
I am hoping Hull will be feeling the effects of a hectic ‘Wembley week’ when they visit Headingley Carnegie to take on a rested and recharged Leeds team.
A win would open up a gap of five points between us in second and the Black and Whites in third, which would almost secure a precious home semi-final with just six points left to play for after this round of fixtures.
With an extra week to rest up post Wembley, Leeds Rhinos are in a good position to pull a win out of the bag against the new Challenge Cup winners, Hull FC.
It is a chance to build on the Rhinos’ current good form and the close win against St Helens as the table starts closing in for the end of this stage of the season.
The Super-8s, as a concept, has once again added more spectacle to the sport of rugby league.
Although Castleford Tigers have stormed ahead in first place in the table, Leeds have done well to maintain their second-place positioning for the next vital run of games.
Close on their heels fall Hull, which adds even more interest to what already promises to be a close game this week when the sides meet at Headingley tonight.
The fight for second, third and fourth place has been both entertaining and thrilling throughout.
How the teams will keep up form as the 8s comes to a close remains to be seen.
Will it carry over into the play-offs or not?
The rollercoaster season continues tonight as we welcome Hull FC.
It’s difficult to forecast the result as both teams have been up and down so far this season.
Hull FC have hovered between second and fourth, as have Leeds. And Hull suffered league defeats before winning the Challenge Cup last week against Wigan.
Last season they barely won a game after winning the Cup, but the post-match comments last Saturday seem to suggest they will have learnt from that.
Hull certainly seem focused on finishing the season well.
As for Leeds, it depends which version of the Rhinos turn up.
Judging by comments gleaned from social media, quite a few of the team appear to have been on short-break holidays and should return fresh for this crucial fixture.
Once [head coach] Brian McDermott names his 19-man squad he needs to ‘get into them’ with a game plan which inspires all the players.
They need more than his recent turgid brand of one-up rugby and a better way of taking the two points.
The Challenge Cup final provided a break from Super League hostilities last weekend and full credit to the efforts of Hull FC at Wembley – in one of the better finals in recent years.
Leeds Rhinos will also have had ample opportunity to focus on this week’s match.
The players have had the week off and they haven’t had the distraction of external issues, such as the South Stand, which overshadowed the Saints clash.
There will also be much focus on the use of the inter-change bench and the tactics employed by Leeds, after much criticism of the Rhinos on social media recently.
In a tough game, it is important that we use all the resources available as rugby league becomes a 17-man game, with much depending on the rotation of substitutes to rest players or change the focus of the game mid-flow.
Let’s hope Hull have also been distracted by their celebrations this week and the Loiners take full advantage by winning – and almost cementing a semi-final spot.
Most teams will have taken advantage of the Challenge Cup final weekend break to take stock, regroup and prepare for the last few matches of the season.
Hopefully, Leeds Rhinos will go into their game against Hull refreshed and raring to go; a win will give them breathing space in their quest for a second-place finish.
Improvements are certainly required with ball in hand if they are to progress to the Grand Final.
There has been much discussion and speculation regarding the make-up of the squad for next season.
Of the all-conquering 2015 squad, barely 50 per cent remain. And supporters are now showing concern over the club’s recruitment policy.
Will the signing of Richie Myler be beneficial?
What about Jordan Lilley and Rhinos’ other ex-academy players?
Are they going to be shunted off elsewhere on ‘dual-registration’ deals and quietly forgotten about, or can we expect to see our youngsters given proper game time and allowed to prove themselves at the top level?
How rubbish are weeks without a Rhinos game?
To be honest the week’s rest may do us a world of good with a few niggles and bumps having a bit of time to heal up.
And it should be near on a fully fit, refreshed squad going into the final weeks.
I was down at Wembley at the weekend for the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup final to watch a great event and to cheer on my good friend Gareth Ellis, the former Leeds Rhinos, Wakefield Trinity and Wests Tigers forward who captained the Black and Whites to victory in his retirement year.
Hopefully Hull, from a totally and unapologetically biased Leeds Rhinos point of view, will still have the celebrations in their legs tonight, because a win for us will see us go a long way to securing a vital home semi-final.
The race for the top four looks like it’s going to go right down to the wire. And with all the teams playing each other we should see some cracking games in Super League in the next month. Hopefully, Leeds Rhinos will have ironed out the inconsistencies and play their part in them.