THEY may have made a stumbling start to the season, but Leeds Rhinos will still be there or thereabouts in the Engage Super League title race.
That’s the view of Wakefield Trinity Wildcats coach John Kear, whose side will aim to inflict a fourth defeat of the year on Rhinos at Rapid Solicitors Stadium, Belle Vue, tomorrow.
Rhinos have lost three of their last four matches and will travel to Wakefield with an injury-hit side on the back of a 30-16 home defeat to St Helens eight days earlier.
Kear, though, isn’t willing to write Rhinos off and reckons they will come good sooner rather than later, under new boss Brian McDermott.
“They have changed coach,” said Kear. “I think the club, through the direction of their chief executive, has probably adopted a slightly different philosophy with regard to how they play the game.
“It is expansive, entertaining and risk-taking. If you adopt that philosophy you might come up with one or two errors.
“I think at the minute they are just bedding in that philosophy within a structure and with the personnel within the team.
“I don’t see any great drama at Leeds and I think they will finish the season a lot stronger than they have played in the first six rounds.
“There’s no doubt they will be in the mix at the end of the year. They are part of the usual suspects – it is still Leeds, Saints and Wigan and also this season there’s Huddersfield and Warrington.
“I fully expect Leeds to be in the latter stages of both the Super League play-offs and the Challenge Cup.”
Kear is taking little comfort from Rhinos’ injury problems.
He said: “If you have got a team that has Rob Burrow, Kevin Sinfield, Danny Buderus and Brent Webb as the creative players, strike players such as Ali Lauitiiti, Weller Hauraki and Keith Senior and workhorses up front such as Kylie Leuluai, who I gather is back now, they will be dangerous.
“They are all high-quality personnel and at some point they are going to play really well. I just hope it isn’t this week.”
Wildcats are on a high after winning 20-6 at Hull last week. Kear admitted that has given the club a boost, but he insisted: “We have been confident throughout.
“We’ve only had one real blow to our confidence, which was the Salford game. We have got performance indicators that don’t just rely on the scoreboard, although that’s what the fans and the media tend to focus upon.
“We look at other things as well. We knew we had been improving and that was reflected in the result at the KC last week.”
Wildcats’ other victory this year, away to Catalan, was followed by an abject home display against Salford.
The key this time is to kick on, Kear accepts.
He said: “It is another test of our growth as a team.
“We played really well at Catalan and then let ourselves down with a massive downturn in performance the following week.
“We played really well at the KC, which was the result of a number of weeks’ work and we have got to maintain, if not improve, that level of performance to give ourselves an opportunity against Leeds.
“The signs have been good, the players have scrubbed up well and they are all fit, apart from Paul King, who had an operation on his foot earlier this week.
“He was hobbling about so we decided to bite the bullet and get the surgery done. He is out, but we have other people we can bring in and we will still be combative and competitive.”
Ben Gledhill, Josh Veivers and potential debutant Chris Annekin – a loose-forward from the under-20s – are the players named in Kear’s initial 19 who did not play last week.
Still on the casualty list are Jeremy Smith (hamstring) and broken hand victims Matt Blaymire – who could return next week – and Motu Tony.
Dale Morton, who has not played this season due to a knee injury, has suffered another set-back. He will undergo an operation on his knee next week and will be out for a further three to eight weeks.
Wakefield Trinity Wildcats: from Murphy, G Johnson, Dean, Griffin, George, Jeffries, Lee, Korkidas, Rinaldi, P Johnson, Morrison, Mariano, Howarth, Henderson, Wildie, Amor, Gledhill, Veivers, Annekin.
Leeds Rhinos: from Webb, Watkins, Ablett, Senior, Hall, Sinfield, Burrow, Leuluai, Buderus, Kirke, Hauraki, Lauitiiti, Jones-Buchanan, Cross, Clarkson, Burgess, McShane, Pitts, Singleton.
Referee: James Child (Dewsbury).
Kick-off: Tomorrow, 3.30pm.