WITH the 2018 fixture list now revealed, defending champions Leeds Rhinos have declared they aim to break the Super League attendance record when they take two regular games to Elland Road next season.
With major rebuilding work ongoing at Emerald Headingley, Brian McDermott’s side will face newly-promoted Hull KR in their first ‘home’ match at Leeds United’s ground on Thursday February 8 (7.45pm).
It means, then, the legendary Danny McGuire does not have to wait long to face his former team-mates with new club Rovers.
Leeds-born McGuire, 34, ended his lifelong association with the Rhinos by leading them to an eighth Grand Final win against Castleford Tigers last month, securing man-of-the-match in the process.
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The veteran stand-off - an ardent Leeds United fan - has signed a two-year deal with Hull KR, who start back in the top-flight after a season’s absence with the visit of Wakefield Trinity on Friday February 2.
However, his former club Rhinos are also looking forward to a second date at Elland Road - intriguingly, a Grand Final re-match against derby rivals Castleford in round seven will take place there on Friday March 23.
Rhinos, who begin their title defence at Warrington Wolves in a televised game on Thursday February 1, know their own crowd record for a ‘home’ Super League game is 23,035 set at Headingley against Bradford Bulls in 2003.
However, they are also targeting the competition record of 25,004, made when Wigan Warriors hosted St Helens two years later.
The 2017 League Leaders’ Shield winners Castleford begin their season in front of the Sky Sports cameras at Saints on Friday February 2.
Ladbrokes Challenge Cup winners Hull FC host Huddersfield Giants the previous night.
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Rhinos have played four World Club Challenges at Elland Road, the last of which was the 2010 defeat against Melbourne Storm, but never before have they taken a Super League fixture to United’s ground.
Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington - currently in Australia hoping to potentially finalise the 2018 World Club Challenge in Melbourne - said: “We are delighted to be able to announce these two showcase events for Leeds Rhinos and Rugby League at Elland Road.
“Under the leadership of chairman Andrea Radrizzani we have been able to work closely with Leeds United on projects that will benefit both clubs but most importantly benefit our home city here in Leeds.
“This is a win-win situation for both clubs. As owners of Elland Road, Leeds United know, as we do ourselves, how it is important to generate income from the stadium by hosting a variety of events and we will be hoping to bring large numbers to both these games.
“For ourselves, we recognise that we have a duty to try and expand the game of Rugby League by creating bigger events for our own supporters and the wider public to enjoy.
“Whilst centrally, the game has grown events such as the Magic Weekend and Grand Final, it is important that the clubs play their part as we have seen in the rugby union Premiership over the last decade.
“That is why we are developing Emerald Headingley Stadium with a £40m project and why we have been working so hard to keep the World Club Challenge as an active part of our competition.
“These two games at Elland Road will be fantastic occasions and our aim is to break the Super League regular season attendance record with these events.
“Because of the redevelopment work at our home this season, it limits our ability to reach out to new supporters and these games are a perfect opportunity to do just that through our work in the community with the Leeds Rhinos Foundation.
“I am sure Danny McGuire will get a tremendous reception on his return to the city for the Hull KR clash and our first meeting of next season against Castleford will be eagerly anticipated.
“The reaction the players received at the recent home game against Reading was fantastic to see and I am confident there will be plenty of people keen to see them in action.
“By moving these games to Elland Road, we will also be able to offer extra capacity to Hull KR and Castleford fans, who traditionally travel in large numbers for their games against the Rhinos.”
In the Championship, Dewsbury Rams start at home to Sheffield Eagles on Friday February 2, Featherstone Rovers hosting Halifax and Batley Bulldogs heading to Rochdale Hornets on Sunday February 4.