CHAMPIONS LEEDS Rhinos are ready to take a leap into the dark at Warrington Wolves tonight.
Boss Brian McDermott is confident his men are well prepared to begin their Betfred Super League title defence, but admits he is not sure what Warrington will throw at them.
Seven places and 10 points separated the teams at the end of last season, but Warrington have brought in a new coach, Steve Price and overhauled their squad.
That means Rhinos are expecting the unexpected, but McDermott knows his men are in for an intense battle played at high speed.
“They are the unknown, Warrington,” McDermott warned.
“I don’t know too much about their coach. They have had a fair turnover of players and it’s the first time [he’s coached against them] without Tony Smith being there.
“I think their coach will have brought a different dynamic, don’t ask me what.
“I should imagine it will be an intense game and if anything, they won’t lack enthusiasm.
“They are going to have loads of energy and it will be a fast-paced game.
“Every one of those players will be out to try and impress the coach. There will be no apathy in their team for sure.”
Rhinos bounced back from featuring in the 2016 Super League Qualifiers by winning the title last year.
Warrington are aiming to do the same and McDermott reckons that adds to the threat – though it could also put pressure on tonight’s hosts.
“The whole bit about being in the middle-eights psychologically, it is crazy,” he said.
“It is a scary process. The pre-season after 2016, building up to 2017, was one of the most intense pre-seasons we’ve had.
“Not because it was hard, or we ran up more hills or carried more weight on our backs.
“It was just the pressure you were under, because of where you’ve just been.
“So you have to come out of the blocks in good fashion, but it is not a given you can get out from under the cloud.
“We didn’t do that until right at the back end of 2017.
“We secured second spot with about three rounds to go and I knew that was an achievement – for me as coach, I knew we would be in good shape for 2018.
“It was only then I thought we just might be getting out from under this cloud. Obviously what happened towards the back end of 2017 meant we are out of the woods now.
“The pressure doesn’t leave you – you have to be really good from the off.
“I think Warrington will have to win the first six or seven games to completely forget about the middle-eights.
“If they are scratchy for the first couple of rounds all that pressure will raise its head again.”
Tonight is the first of two competitive games before Rhinos fly to Australia to face Melbourne Storm in the World Club Challenge.
“They can’t be dress rehearsals,” McDermott warned of Leeds’ opening two Betfred Super League fixtures. But we have got to be in as good a physical state as possible, bearing in mind it is only round three.
“You don’t find your rhythm in our comp’ until round 10, when the fields dry up and the sun comes out a bit.”