Mac warms to Leeds’ annual mid-winter ‘friendly’ fixture

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LEEDS RHINOS boss Brian McDermott’s attitude to Christmas fixtures is no longer “bah, humbug”.

McDermott admits he has been won over by the idea of the Tetley’s Festive Challenge.

“People talk about it being slap-bang in the middle of pre-season and initially you think it’s not ideal, but my opinion has changed slightly,” McDermott said ahead of the Boxing Day visit of Wakefield Trinity Wildcats.

“It’s good, I think now, to have a bit of a test and a bit of a benchmark of where you are at.

“It certainly doesn’t mean much in terms of long term, but we will get a fair bit out of it.

“From the football department’s point of view, if we don’t play well it’s not what we want to happen, but we’ll certainly know where we’re at. And if we do play well we will know that some of the things we’ve been working on are coming off and we can continue to do that.”

McDermott added: “Looking at it from outside the football department, it’s the festive challenge – it has been a traditional part of the Leeds rugby calendar for years and years and we welcome the fixture.

“In the winter rugby days Boxing Day was a huge fixture and we’ve kept hold of that. Tradition is a big thing and I think we’ve got to respect tradition and history.

“And it provides everybody with an opportunity to catch up with the team mid-way through pre-season.”

Rhinos are without Kevin Sinfield, Joel Moon and Brett Delaney as they recover from surgery, while Carl Ablett (knee) and

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Rob Burrow (groin) also miss out.

Avoiding new fitness concerns is a priority and McDermott said: “It would be interesting to look at the amount of injuries we get now, compared to 20 years ago before Super League began.

“We will clearly be getting more injuries, because people are doing more through the week.

“They are running into each other mid-week, as well as on a weekend.

“When I first started playing, when the game first went full-time, everyone was pulling hamstrings and lower backs.

“Now it seems to be groins and calfs and it has moved into – in my opinion, for the last four or five years – where snaps and breaks and full on tears are the big thing now.

“They’re the ones you can’t avoid, but certainly in terms of injuries on Boxing Day, there’s a fair bit we can do in terms of preparation, how far we push them and how much we push them.

“Let’s remind ourselves we are in pre-season and the players will be going into this game not in the best-possible shape to play a game, because we are in the depth of pre-season.

“We will start sharpening up after Christmas and we will be absolutely ready the week before the season.

“There is always a concern that they go into this game a little bit over-cooked and on that note fingers will be crossed.”