LEEDS RHINOS’ visit to St Helens tonight will be the setting for a school reunion.
Rhinos forward Brett Delaney is looking forward to crossing swords with rival second-rower Zeb Taia, who is in his second season with Saints after joining them from Gold Coast Titans.
The two Aussies have played against each other before, but Delaney revealed it is always a special occasion and a friendship which dates back to their youth.
“I was at school with Zeb,” Delaney said of the former Catalans Dragons man.
“We go way back – I played with him at Parramatta so I’ve known Zeb a very long time.
“It is funny how things work out. I am at the other side of the world and playing against somebody I’ve known for 20-odd years.
“It is always good playing against him, but obviously Saints are a good side and it’s always good to play against them.”
The next two weeks are a huge test for the defending Betfred Super League champions, who face Castleford Tigers in a Grand Final rematch at Elland Road in seven days’ time.
Leeds have won three of their opening four games and Delaney reckons it has been a decent start to the campaign, for him and the team.
“Everything’s all right, touch wood,” the 32-year-old veteran said.
“It has been going well. We had a bit of a scrappy performance last week, it wasn’t the best, but we fought hard and got the win and we will take that into this week.
“We had a bit of a blip at Widnes, the week after we got back from Australia. There were no excuses there, but we bounced back and got a win against a decent Hull team last week and that was pleasing.”
Rhinos led 10-0 in the opening quarter, but Hull battled back strongly and Delaney felt the way Rhinos defended their line under heavy pressure late in the game illustrated the spirit in the team.
“There was a point where we could have put our foot down a bit more, but Hull are a great side and they came back,” he said. “Credit to our boys, we hung in there and got the win.
“We have got two new half-backs and it is only early days, but I am sure our attack will come with time.
“We are always scrambling and working hard for each other in defence and that’s always a bonus.
Only table-topping St Helens have conceded fewer points than Rhinos this year, but they have scored almost 100 more and Delaney described them as “the form team of the year so far”.
He said: “Ben Barba’s flying again and my mate Zeb is playing well on the edge. It will be a good test for us and we are looking forward to it.
“It is always tough over there; they are a big, physical team and they love coming at you down the middle, playing behind people like James Roby and Kyle Amor, but we will be up for it, definitely.”
Barba is Saints’ most lethal attacking weapon. He is a former NRL player of the year and Delaney admitted the Aussie full-back is a rare talent.
“He came over late last year and I don’t think Super League saw the best of him, but he has shown glimpses of what a freak he really is this season,” he observed.
“He will be a big danger and we’ll have to shut him down if we are going to win.”
Delaney is ever-present in Rhinos’ five competitive games this year, including the World Club Challenge in Melbourne exactly a month ago.
After his injury woes of recent seasons – including a hamstring problem which kept him out of the 2017 Grand Final – he is making the most of his time on the field.
“It probably boils down to not having any operations last year and in the off-season, ” he said.
“I had a decent pre-season and I am looking after my body a bit more now I am getting older.
“It’s just little things like stretching, ice baths and eating well. My diet’s on point and things like that have made a difference.
“I had to try something because the last couple of years have been horrendous. I am enjoying it, being back on the pitch and doing a job for the team.
“I am feeling positive. I am building each game and I played 80 minutes against Widnes, which was the first time I’ve done that in a while.
“I’ll just keep building and taking it week to week, but I am really enjoying it at the moment.”