Wigan Warriors are in town tomorrow as Headingley awaits one of the biggest games in rugby league for the first time in front of fans since 2019.
Every man and his dog have already written Leeds off and why wouldn’t they? The Rhinos are now set to be without skipper Kruise Leeming for the rest of the season, still only have one senior prop available in Mikolaj Oledzki, are missing their first choice halves and have now lost bright young prospect Sam Walters who was beginning to develop into a sound option at prop.
However, it may not be all doom and gloom with a number of key players returning giving the Rhinos a touch of hope going into this seismic clash with one of their oldest rivals.
But how will the game pan out? Well here’s our take?
One of Leeds’ best performances of the season came against Warrington as Leeds battered the Wolves 40-4. Something intriguing about this win was the way Leeds chose to defend. They seemed to sit back giving Warrington a bit of space which is an unconventional way to defend in the modern game but it enabled Leeds to conserve energy. It also gave them the room to contain Warrington’s attacks.
Could Rohan Smith adopt a similar strategy here? In some ways it sounds like a recipe for disaster giving people like Jai Field and Bevan French space but sometimes by giving players too much space they don’t know what to do with it.
It would be a very reactive strategy and Leeds would have to cover incredibly well for it function here but keep your eyes on it. The alternative is trying to contain Wigan’s middles but with the personnel Leeds have missing this is easier said than done.
As for attack, expect the usual Rohan Smith style of expansive and expressive rugby. If this clicks, Leeds will give themselves a puncher’s chance.
Although many people were very disappointed by the news coming out of the club yesterday, there is cause for optimism mainly in the return of Zak Hardaker, Harry Newman and Liam Sutcliffe.
This trio will boost two areas of the team: the backline and the spine. Zak Hardaker’s return will enable Richie Myler to move into the halves alongside Corey Johnson or Jack Sinfield. I believe it’ll be Johnson who gets the nod here with Smith electing to protect his 17-year-old halfback.
So, the spine will have a lot more experience too it and we’ve seen Hardaker and Myler link up well in these roles namely at Warrington to create a lovely try for Kruise Leeming. Meanwhile, Harry Newman and Liam Sutcliffe’s return will ensure the three-quarters are at full strength.
So, the backs are still quite impressive as is Rohan Smith’s options in the back-row. Rhyse Martin will return to second-row alongside James Bentley as Morgan Gannon drops to the bench. Bodene Thompson is again an option here whilst Cameron Smith has become an excellent 13 under the new boss.
The problem lies in the front row however and this could see Leeds undone. Mikolaj Oledzki will surely start at prop with Jarrod O’Connor remaining at hooker. Alongside this duo will either be Thompson or James Donaldson with the other on the bench.
They’ll be joined by Gannon and the outgoing Brad Dwyer whilst either Wakefield loanee Yusuf Aydin or the returning Muizz Mustapha will complete the 17.
33 Zak Hardaker
2 David Fusitu’a
3 Harry Newman
4 Liam Sutcliffe
5 Ash Handley
26 Corey Johnson
16 Richie Myler
8 Mikolaj Oledzki
24 Jarrod O’Connor
25 James Donaldson
11 James Bentley
12 Rhyse Martin
17 Cameron Smith
14 Brad Dwyer
19 Bodene Thompson
21 Morgan Gannon
34 Yusuf Aydin
This was always going to be a tough game even before the number of injuries and suspensions which have come Leeds’ way since that brilliant win at Hull FC just a few weeks ago.
Those loses have made this task harder but the situation isn’t as bad as it could be with some real strike in the backs and a real quality in the spine with Zak Hardaker and Richie Myler in key roles.
The backrow is also still very strong. Of course, things could all go wrong in the middle for Leeds but if they can find a way to contain Wigan in the middle they have a chance.
So, things aren’t as bad as they seem but it’ll still be very tough indeed.
Prediction: Leeds Rhinos 16-32 Wigan Warriors