The big games keep coming for Leeds Rhinos. After masterminding an amazing comeback win over Catalans Dragons after trailing 30-6 with a man down and a big win over Wigan to truly give their play-off dream life, they need a win against the sixth place Salford to ensure those dreams don’t crumble.
A defeat for the Rhinos would see them slip to ninth three points adrift of the play-offs whilst a win would see them take sixth spot only a point behind Castleford in fifth.
It’s a game they must win but they’re taking on the league’s form team Salford who have beaten Catalans and St Helens in their last two home games by a combined score of 76-18 – not bad against last year’s Grand Finalists.
So how will Rohan Smith’s side go about beating them?
Tactically both these teams are similar. They’re not overly interested in the grind like most teams but instead look to move the ball where they can.
What will be interesting to see is Salford’s tendency to push to the edges from deep whereas Leeds enjoy success by coming back inside with drop offs and foot work when deep with the likes of Harry Newman and James Bentley excelling at this.
One thing which will be key is a quick ruck. The Rhinos will need to generate speed in this area to fully express themselves in attack against a Salford side who smartly contained the Saints last week.
Defensively, Leeds may adopt a similar defensive strategy as the one which downed Wigan giving themselves space to cover but equally be ready to explode and shut down moments of danger such as Tim Lafai.
His battle with Harry Newman could be exceptional.
I suspect most of the 17 will remain the same though David Fusitu’a will likely replace Liam Tindall on the wing despite Tindall’s 12 tackle busts from 11 carries last week.
Blake Austin’s continued absence will see Richie Myler stay at six next to Aidan Sezer, as Zak Hardaker remains at fullback with Harry Newman and Liam Sutcliffe at centre.
Jarrod O’Connor will start at nine ahead of Brad Dwyer who will again be the impact sub.
The big question lies around prop after Matt Prior’s ban. I believe Bodene Thompson’s form will keep him in the front row but who will take Prior’s spot on the bench will it be the returning Zane Tetevano who is back from a five match ban or young Sam Walters who returns from injury.
If it was me I’d look to continue Walters’ development but Smith is likely to go with the experienced Tetevano.
33 Zak Hardaker
2 David Fusitu’a
3 Harry Newman
4 Liam Sutcliffe
5 Ash Handley
16 Richie Myler
7 Aidan Sezer
8 Mikolaj Oledzki
24 Jarrod O’Connor
19 Bodene Thompson
11 James Bentley
12 Rhyse Martin
25 James Donaldson
13 Zane Tetevano
14 Brad Dwyer
17 Cameron Smith
21 Morgan Gannon
This game is the hardest to predict of the round for me and it’s hard to see what could tip this game either way with both teams in such great form.
It’ll come down to performance on the day for me and which side plays better on the day and importantly takes their chances.
Home advantage could play apart with Salford’s best performances coming at home this season.
Leeds Rhinos 26-22 Salford Red Devils