Leeds Rhinos v Wigan Warriors: St James’ Park stage impresses Kevin Sinfield

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TONIGHT’S game between Leeds Rhinos and Wigan Warriors is seen by most as a fitting finale to the first day’s action at Magic Weekend.

In all likelihood, it will be the highlight of the whole event in Newcastle as the Challenge Cup holders and Super League leaders take on a Wigan side for a fixture that invariably brings out the best in both teams.

Leeds Rhinos' Kevin Sinfield is wrapped up by Wigan's defence during a past Magic Weekend meeting between the sides. They meet again tonight, in Newcastle, when Sinfield will equal the Super League appearance record of St Helens' Paul Wellens (Picture: PA Wire).

Leeds Rhinos' Kevin Sinfield is wrapped up by Wigan's defence during a past Magic Weekend meeting between the sides. They meet again tonight, in Newcastle, when Sinfield will equal the Super League appearance record of St Helens' Paul Wellens (Picture: PA Wire).

For Leeds captain Kevin Sinfield, the only player to score in all eight Magic Weekends so far, the task for his side is perhaps all the more difficult given their opponents’ latest result.

Wigan slipped to third after an emphatic 58-16 defeat against Catalans Dragons in Perpignan a week ago, a reverse that has damaged their hopes of eclipsing Rhinos at the top in the hunt for the League Leaders’ Shield.

It means Leeds could move six points clear of them if they prosper tonight, but the Warriors, of course, have won the last two Magic fixtures against them in Manchester.

“I hope it’s going to be another entertaining game,” Sinfield told The Yorkshire Post.

“We’ve had some really tough encounters with Wigan over the last few years and have got a bit of rivalry now going with them.

“To play in great arenas on the big stage is brilliant and what all players want to do especially against great teams so we’ll look forward to St James’ Park.

“We understand the challenge in front of us – it’s always going to be tough in Newcastle on Saturday night but probably even more so now with their result last weekend.

“We’re aware of that. And ready for that.”

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Sinfield has experienced a range of emotions since appearing at the first Magic Weekend in Cardiff in 2007 when Jordan Tansey’s infamous try in the final seconds robbed Bradford Bulls of victory.

There have been memorable comebacks – both from 28-10 down – to defeat Wakefield Trinity and Bradford in 2010 and 2011 respectively.

But then came those recent disappointments against Wigan in what were ferocious and heated battles.

“My experiences have been pretty good,” said the 34-year-old.

“The last two years have been pretty mixed with Wigan beating us both times, but on the flip side both were good games as well.

“For some reason, when I was up at St James’ during the week, I did feel like rugby league was very much at home in Newcastle.

“There’s some similarities with the people and passion in and around the place to us in rugby league and it made me look forward to it all the more.

“It was great to be on that Newcastle pitch and there was an electric atmosphere out there already on Tuesday with 250 kids on it so what will it be like Saturday with 40-odd thousand?

“It’s a big occasion for everybody and a huge two points for us against a team that has beat us the last two times at Magic Weekend, so it would be great to get this one.”

This will be Sinfield’s final Magic Weekend given the former England captain finishes his glittering rugby league career when he moves to Yorkshire Carnegie at the end of the season.

He was, unusually, dropped by Brian McDermott recently for a couple of games before coming back to win man of the match against Huddersfield Giants in the Challenge Cup and presiding over a 36-16 win versus Hull KR last week.

Did that absence remind the 34-year-old, who has won six Grand Finals with Leeds, of just how special such events like this are?

“I don’t think I needed reminding,” insisted Sinfield. “I just want to play every week. I get a lot out of the game, get a lot of satisfaction when games go well and I perform well and the team does.

“I look forward to this one and hopefully we’ll get that result.”

He was absent with an injury when Leeds defeated Wigan 
26-14 at Headingley in March.

But Wigan coach Shaun Wane, said: “I’m really glad we’re playing the best team in the comp’.

“They’re always great games between us and Leeds. They’re the form team in the comp’ so we need to be a lot better. We’ll trouble Leeds but we need to stay with them because they play with a high intensity and they defend with some vigour.

“There’s no doubt about it, they’re a tough team to beat but we did it last year with a weak team at the Etihad.”

Sinfield will equal St Helens stalwart Paul Wellens’s Super League appearance record of 439 while Leeds-born hooker Michael McIlorum makes his 200th appearance for Wigan.

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