FAMILIARITY HAS bred respect among Leeds Rhinos’ players for tomorrow’s Betfred Super League semi-final opponents Hull.
The sudden-death tie will be the sides’ fifth meeting this year and Rhinos second-rower Stevie Ward said past encounters suggest it will be a tight battle which could go down to the wire.
Leeds won 52-24 at KCOM Stadium and 10-7 on their own turf in the regular Betfred Super League campaign and were 38-26 victors when the Black and Whites visited Headingley at the end of August in the Super-8s.
But Hull produced their best performance of the season in a 43-24 Ladbrokes Challenge Cup semi-final triumph two months ago on Friday and Ward reckons neither team is likely to be taken by surprise tomorrow night.
“Generally you learn quite a lot as you go on in the year,” he said.
“We are in a very different position to the first time we played them at the start of the year.
“We learn each week and I am sure they have learned quite a bit about playing us.
“We’ve played each other quite often now and we know it’s going to be a tough contest.
“It’s something we are all looking forward to and it is an exciting situation to be in.”
The semi-final victory was Hull’s only win in their last 10 meetings with Rhinos.
They have not won at Headingley since September, 2007 – a run of 12 successive defeats away to Leeds – but the surroundings will be different on tomorrow night.
The South Stand has now been demolished, with the rubble due to be cleared by kick-off time and work has begun in the main stand, reducing Headingley’s capacity to 12,500.
Hull supporters will make up around a quarter of the crowd and Ward said: “Past results won’t have any bearing
“It is a semi-final and we’re not going to read anything into what’s happened in the past.
“We know what we need to do and we need to put out a performance.”
Ward played in Rhinos’ 2012 Grand Final win over Warrington Wolves, but missed the 2015 victory against Wigan Warriors – which clinched the treble – after suffering a serious knee injury two weeks earlier.
That and the tough times he has endured since as he battled back to full fitness have made him more desperate than normal to return to Old Trafford.
“We’ve strung quite a few games together this year and I’ve been involved in quite a few,” he said.
“It would be nice to be back there and to be competing on that big stage, but this is a big semi-final and all I am thinking about is the nuts and bolts of the game coming up.”
Hull’s squad for tomorrow includes two members of this year’s Super League Dream team, winger Mahe Fonua and stand-off Albert Kelly, who is also a Man of Steel nominee.
Matt Parcell is Rhinos’ only Dream Team representative and they failed to feature on the man of Steel shortlist.
Ward had been tipped as a possible Dream Team contender, but he said: “It’s not something I thought about.
“It would have been nice to be in the frame. That’s what you try to do – you try to be the best – but it wasn’t at the front of my mind.”
And Ward insisted lack of recognition won’t be used as a motivation in Leeds’ camp ahead of tomorrow’s game.
“I think there’s enough to go at this week,” he stressed.
“We want to be back at Old Trafford and it is a brilliant position to be in compared to last year, so that’s motivation for us.
“I am not sure if individually it will motivate people, but we have all been working hard all year to get to this point and that’s enough in itself.”