McClennan sends message to Leeds Rhinos' pretenders

WIGAN and Warrington may be showing every sign of emerging as genuine forces in Super League and one of these could ultimately lift their first Super League title in October.

But, for now, the table does lie. They occupy the top two positions and have delivered some of the most impressive displays of 2010, each hopeful of continuing that form all the way to Old Trafford.

However, regardless of their definite improvements and the much-needed added interest their recent success has brought to the competition, it is the old simmering rivalry between Leeds and St Helens which still commands utmost attention.

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The sides that have contested the last three Grand Finals meet once more this evening, not in their second home of Manchester but at Headingley Carnegie.

Uncharacteristically, Leeds are sat in fifth, a remnant of a slow start to their third successive title defence, while their hungry opponents are nudged out of the top two by Warrington only on points difference.

But Rhinos coach Brian McClennan insisted: "When you're playing Saints you just don't even think about the table.

"It's a Saints Leeds game. It brings its own drama and its own theatre. They've been the great games for the last three years and we're just concentrating on trying to get involved in another classic."

It is too early for mind games to begin but the man who has masterminded the last two Leeds championships sent a subtle warning to the pretenders to their crown.

"Wigan and Warrington are staking their claims which is great for the sport but recent history says the biggest is Saints v Leeds," added McClennan.

"It's up to the other clubs to change that.

"We're making progress and there is more intensity in Super League; normally you can get ready for a Saints game but last week we had to get ready for Warrington while this year we dropped our guard against Wakefield and Crusaders and – bang – we were down.

"That's what the league's striving for. We've got to hope the teams that have beaten us prep themselves up and get stuck into some of the other teams in the top four."

Leeds demonstrated their potency remains by inflicting a 37-30 defeat on Warrington, completing a Super League double over their old coach Tony Smith and, crucially, raising more question marks about the Wolves' ability to rise to the challenge when it comes to the biggest of tests.

However, McClennan probably appreciates his side, currently five points adrift, will need help from others if they are to chase them and Saints down.

Leeds lost 41-20 against Mick Potter's side at Knowsley Road on April 24 but from then, with their injured stars regaining their fitness, they started a winning sequence that has only been broken once since by Crusaders.

The visitors this evening have fallen to just Salford and Hull.

They have England scrum-half Kyle Eastmond returning to harness their attacking prowess but McClennan remains adamant his side can continue their resurgence.

"The season to date seems to have happened so quickly," he said. "But we're actually pretty fresh because we've had so many blokes who have had rest through injuries.

"Nearly everyone has had some sort of spell out whether it be a couple of weeks or a couple of months.

"That means we're feeling all right. We'd like to be higher but we're still there or thereabouts and if we can win a few more we'll have a decent shot at the end.

"Every team comes at us, depsite us being further down the league, but we like it. It means we're used to the intensity and ready to step up when we need to at the business end."

Keith Senior, Leeds's only ever-present, marks his 300th league

appearance tonight, having signed a one-year extension.