Challenge from Reds immediate focus for champions

Considering his immense success at Leeds Rhinos you can understand why Brian McDermott is not particularly perturbed.

Joel Moon

His side came unstuck at a rain-sodden Castleford on Sunday, not only losing the game against their unfancied local rivals but a trio of influential players to injury along the way as well.

The mountainous challenge of Melbourne Storm in the World Club Challenge lies in store in just a week’s time and Leeds have a game against Salford City Reds this evening which could potentially yield more woe.

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It is not the ideal build-up envisaged for facing the Australian premiers.

But McDermott, with the calm assurance befitting someone who served in the Royal Marines and who has guided his team to every final possible in his two-and-a-half-year reign at Headingley, is at ease and relishing the prospect.

The Super League champions overcame Hull FC 36-6 in their opening game a fortnight ago and he told the Yorkshire Post: “We’re getting as much out of the Castleford game as we did that.

“We were tested in the Hull match, made to work hard and we had to take our time to eventually break them down.

“For very different reasons, we got tested at Castleford as well.

“More than anything, that was down to the conditions but then we also found ourselves in a situation where we had plenty of players playing out of position towards the final half-hour after losing three key people – Zak Hardaker, Ryan Bailey and Brett Delaney – to injury.

“That was up against a very tenacious Castleford side who didn’t ever want to back down.

“While it was disappointing to lose (14-12) we can certainly move forward with it.

“That’s not just me papering over any cracks and being all clichéd; there was enough positive stuff in that game to show us we can build on it now against Salford.”

If history is anything to go by, and current form for that matter, their visitors this evening should not realistically offer too much of a threat.

Salford have won just once in their 30 Super League meetings with Leeds, that sole success coming at Headingley almost four years ago, and they have lost their opening two games this season, conceding 82 points in the process and scoring just six.

Wigan and then Catalan vanquished Phil Veivers’s side who may have been rescued off the field by new owner Dr Marwan Koukash’s crucial recent investment but, with a raft of new players, are still battling to find their feet on it.

However, McDermott warned: “They will have their purple patch at some point, no doubt about it.

“Their structure, personnel and systems will be the same as last season and they will find some form.

“With all the adversity that’s gone on there, and with two opening losses, what better way than looking to start that purple patch at the champions?

“They’ll be playing a Leeds side the week before the World Club Challenge with – supposedly – one eye on that.

“You can see how they will fancy this and they’re going to be a challenge.”

Leeds, though, expect a response themselves and the absenteeism due to injury is not being viewed in a negative manner.

Former England captain Jamie Peacock, who thrives in grandiose occasions such as the World Club Challenge, is expected to be back for that decider against the NRL champions as is Brett Delaney, and full-back Hardaker should have recovered from his head knock at Castleford to play his part this evening.

Bailey is more doubtful for Melbourne but McDermott is encouraged by what their replacements will offer.

Veteran prop Kylie Leuluai, a five-time Grand Final winner, comes in for his first game of the season after wrist surgery while another Old Trafford victor, Stevie Ward, gets his first opportunity to impress after recovering from his own shoulder problems.

Front-row Richard Moore, desperate to prove a point after falling down the pecking order, is in contention after getting a run-out with Hunslet Hawks last Sunday while former England prop Darrell Griffin is also bidding for a timely recall.

“We want to perform well to lead into next week but we’ve also got those injuries so there are some shirts up for grabs,” conceded McDermott.

“People will want to be putting their name down (for the WCC) for Friday night and there’s no bigger motivation for those already in the side than having someone breathing down your neck like that.”

One player who will be keen to impress in readiness for his first stab at silverware with the reigning world club champions is Joel Moon, the Australian centre who has slotted in nicely following his switch from Salford.

“You don’t have to be an expert of our game to see what he’s done,” said McDermott, with the Exiles player instantly offering Leeds a natural attacking outlet down their left edge.

“He showed up really well against Hull and did well given the difficult situation he found himself in at Cas.

“Joel doesn’t have too much to say for himself but it isn’t because he can’t speak; he just doesn’t feel the need to and that’s good to see.

“He’s confident in his own ability, cracks on, gets his head down and you couldn’t wish for better application – but there’s a lot more to see from him yet.”