Saturday’s main event in Newcastle pits last year’s two Grand Finaliats together, both of whom have fallen on hard times recently. Dave Craven reports.
EVERYONE knows rugby league can be fickle but is there any better illustration of its wildly varying nature than the case of Leeds Rhinos’ Mitch Garbutt?
The Australian forward arrived at Headingley last June and, quite memorably, within just 14 games had completed the glorious treble of Challenge Cup, League Leaders’ Shield and Grand Final success.
Discarded by Brisbane Broncos, it was simply a dream scenario for the robust prop.
However, fast forward a few months and on the eve of only his 13th game since in the famous blue and amber, the picture is markedly different.
Now, of course, Leeds are out of the Challenge Cup, bottom of Super League and seemingly destined for a run in the dreaded Qualifiers rather than heading for Old Trafford for their seemingly customary stab at the ultimate prize.
To rub salt into the wound, Garbutt became only the second player in history to be red-carded in a World Club Challenge after his dismissal during February’s loss against North Queensland Cowboys.
Leeds face Wigan Warriors tonight at Magic Weekend in a re-run of their Grand Final win, so does that crowning moment all feel like an eternity ago now?
“It does feel like it was a long time ago and it was,” Garbutt told The Yorkshire Post.
“We’re not playing real well at the moment but we prepare every week the same as we do and we’re training hard.
“We just can’t seem to get things right on the park at the moment.
“There’s no lack of confidence in our squad; everyone knows we’re talented and we get to see what each other can do every day so there’s no lack of that.
“We believe we’re a good team but it’s just not happening for us on the park currently.”
Unrecognisable Leeds have won just one of their previous nine games.
Asked if Wigan may be vulnerable at all themselves having lost their last two matches ahead of Newcastle, Garbutt acknowledges it is clutching at straws.
“Nope. Not at all. Wigan aren’t fragile at all,” said the 27-year-old, about a side who have also defeated Leeds in all three of their Magic Weekend appearances since first meeting in 2013.
“Any team they put on the field is going to be competitive and they’re strong across the board.
“We’ll prepare as best as we can and hopefully come away with the win. If not, we’ll go back to the drawing board and go again.”
What Garbutt will relish is taking the battle to Wigan who have front-row enforcer Ben Flower back in their ranks and are consistently one of the most rugged packs around.
“As a front-rower you enjoy playing against the best and they are probably the most physical side in the comp’” he said, ahead of his first Magic Weekend experience.
“Every time you play them you know you’ve been in a game and are sore for a few days after and that’s what rugby league is about.”
Leeds, who hope to see their own pack augmented by the return of Garbutt’s fellow countrymen Brett Delaney and Beau Falloon, are due a positive response especially following the debacle of their last outing, a record 52-12 home defeat to Castleford.
“We’ve needed to have a response for a few weeks in a row,” added the player, who has scored one try in a dozen appearances so far this term.
“We’ve not been performing well but it’s not through lack of effort, things just haven’t clicked.
“I can’t give the reasons why but Cas played really well didn’t they? They had some quality players all on song the night.
“Hopefully we’ll get the same on Saturday.”
Leeds need to turn the corner soon or the talk of an unthinkable relegation fight will only increase.
That prospect is something Garbutt has never had to contemplate since there is no such entity in the NRL.
“I don’t know too much about it,” he said. “It’s not something we’ve spoken about. We’re just assessing every game as it comes. It’s all we can do.”