THERE is a feeling of regret hanging over Super League leaders Leeds Rhinos – which should serve as an ominous warning for tonight’s hosts Wigan Warriors.
Having produced a stunning performance to rout champions St Helens 46-18 at Headingley last Friday, you would expect Leeds to be pretty happy with themselves as they head to the DW Stadium for another televised top-four battle.
Delivering such a supreme display in such a high-pressure encounter has left many onlookers believing Brian McDermott’s improving squad are destined to return to Old Trafford and win a Grand Final for the first time since 2012.
However, their England winger Ryan Hall admits the players are still hurting after losing to Wigan at Magic Weekend in May – a 27-12 loss in Newcastle which was one of their most disappointing games of the season.
“They are a tough side and when we played them up in Newcastle we didn’t show our best,” he said. “We didn’t perform last time and that was the most disappointing thing, because it was on a big stage.
“We like to pride ourselves on being able to rise to those occasions, but we really let ourselves down.
“We are in their back yard this time and we don’t have a great record there, but hopefully we can carry on from last week.
“Our team performance was as good as it has been all year, so we can draw on that and use that momentum going forward.”
If they do that, as good as Wigan can be, it is hard to see beyond a Leeds win which would put them five points clear of Saints – who host Huddersfield Giants tomorrow – at the top with just two regular rounds remaining.
Furthermore, given points from the regular season are held over into the Super 8s segment of the season, there is added reason to inflict more damage on their close rivals who currently sit third, and it would be another step towards hopefully securing the West Yorkshire club’s first League Leaders’ Shield since 2009.
“It’s the first time for this new format and there’s no hidden ways around it – you’ve just got to go as hard as you can, for as long as you can,” added Hall, who scored twice in the Saints win to take his tally for the season to 12.
“We’ve done that this season already. We are doing alright in the league, but there’s still 10 games left before the semi-finals.
“There’s a lot of importance to finishing in the top-two this year, after the eights.
“There’s one semi’ and that’s at home, if you finish first or second. Even being in the top-four going into the eights is important, because you get four home games rather than three.
“With our record at Headingley, that would be good for us.”
Wigan are strengthened by the return of England captain Sean O’Loughlin tonight plus John Bateman, the former Bradford Bulls second-row tipped to potentially make his own England debut against the Kiwis this autumn.
Leeds, conversely, have lost their own tyro second-row on the international radar – Stevie Ward – to an ankle injury and seen England full-back Zak Hardaker banned for this fixture.
Wigan coach Shaun Wane is still fuming after a 17-6 loss to fierce rivals Warrington Wolves a week ago so they are expected to respond but Hall insisted: “We are focusing on ourselves, that’s the main thing.
“If we get ourselves right we know we will go a long way towards winning the game, so that’s what we are concentrating on.”