Rhinos are aiming to atone as they face Giants test

Ryan Hall
Ryan Hall
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HAVING ended one unwanted record, Leeds Rhinos are immediately setting their sights on banishing another.

A week ago, it was a long-standing poor run at St Helens which was ruthlessly brought to a close with a couple of timely rapier thrusts.

It had been five years since Leeds last won over at their Merseyside opponents so victory proved a welcome relief.

After losing their last two homes games against tonight’s opponents Huddersfield Giants, the champions are aiming to put that right, too.

Also, in the final regular round of last season, a 48-24 loss at Huddersfield endured when their opponents were down to 12 men for the majority of the game, is another reason for Leeds aiming to atone.

“It has been disappointing the way we have played against them the last couple of years, especially at home,” said winger Ryan Hall, talking exclusively to the Yorkshire Post.

“They have beaten us quite comfortably two years on the bounce at Headingley and we want to put that right come Friday.

“We did it last week at Saints. We’d not won there for a while but ended that run and now we aim to do the same with Huddersfield.”

Of course, Huddersfield have emerged as early leaders in this new Super League season, remaining top despite Sunday’s heavy loss against Bradford.

In theory, they should be obvious challengers to Leeds, who have won five of the last six titles but history points to a lack of longevity and stamina when it comes to the full length of the campaign.

The addition of high-calibre props Stuart Fielden and Craig Kopczak has strengthened one area as has the return of Shaun Lunt, the hooker who spent much of last term on loan at Headingley and won a Grand Final winners’ ring with the Rhinos.

Hall, the England star who was named the world’s best winger for 2012, remains unsure whether they will be there challenging come the autumn.

“They had a real good side last year and started really strong,” he offered. “But they have dropped away and faded a bit towards the end in recent seasons. That’s their biggest challenge this time.

“We know they are strong and have some class players but we’re only thinking about stringing our own wins together.”

Leeds have started strongly in their latest title defence, a narrow loss at Castleford their only negative after wins against Hull FC, Salford City Reds and Saints, where they responded well after their heart-breaking World Club Challenge defeat to Melbourne Storm.

At Langtree Park, it was Hall’s brace and, no less important, a smart assist for Kylie Leuluai’s crucial try around the hour mark that broke down Saints’ stubborn resistance.

It took Hall’s Super League points tally past the 500-mark, the latest record chalked up following the prolific 25-year-old’s remarkable rise to prominence.

It is well documented that the powerful wideman was a late starter to the professional game, only being picked up by Rhinos at the age of 18 after impressing for Leeds amateurs Oulton Raiders.

But his prolific scoring – he has amassed more than 30 tries in each of the last four seasons – seems to know no bounds, none of which he could ever have even envisaged when he made his debut against Bradford Bulls at Millennium Magic in May, 2007.

“You don’t really get to think that far ahead,” he said.

“The only thing I was thinking back then was the following week and whether I’d even be playing or not.

“I enjoyed that debut but I wasn’t contemplating any records or anything like that.

“As much as I enjoy it, I don’t even give it too much thought even now. I don’t really think about too much in the future.

“This season is about as far ahead as I’m thinking at the minute.

“It was nice to get 500 Super League points. I’ve scored a few more for Leeds in the Challenge Cup and wherever else so I’ve actually got a 500-point record twice now.

“But it’s always nice to get things like that out of the way.”

When it comes to wingers, England are not faring too badly in this World Cup year. While Hall is a certainty on the left, Hull FC’s Tom Briscoe and Wigan’s Josh Charnley were fighting it out for the other slot last term and this time around there is an unlikely addition to Steve McNamara’s conundrum.

Wakefield’s Ben Cockayne, who was playing part-time for Featherstone Rovers barely 18 months ago after being axed by Hull KR, has forced his way into the elite training squad while Huddersfield’s own robust Jermaine McGillvary – whom Hall faces tonight – cannot be far off the reckoning.

“It’s outstanding what he (Cockayne) has done over the last couple of years,” admitted Hall.

“He’s gone from some real lows, like being released by his Super League club, to potentially representing his country.

“He’s done really well with how’s he turned that around and he’s a different sort of player to me the way he gets out of dummy half. That’s a real string to his bow. I realise he’s plenty to offer.

“I’ve always thought McGillvary’s pretty good, too, from both playing against him and watching the previews the week before we face Huddersfield.

“He carries the ball really strongly and reminds me a bit of Marcus Bai the way he plays.”

McGillvary certainly adopts a no-nonsense sort of approach just like Leeds’ former Papuan.

If Giants scrum-half Danny Brough and his stellar kicking game return, too, Hall is certain 
to be kept on his toes this evening.

But Leeds are accustomed to such challenges and, ordinarily, when under pressure they have that innate ability to rally.

Hall admits they could have floundered a week ago at Saints when their kit was caught up 
in traffic chaos caused by a lorry accident that shut the west-bound M62.

They warmed up in the Under-19s’ used gear and were set to play in that before their usual attire finally arrived.

“It did remind me of the old amateur days – one bag in the middle and everyone just scrapping madly for some kit,” laughed Hall.

“But it turned out right in the end, and it comes down to the lads we have got in this team and their character.

“Everyone just got on with it. It could have been a big hiccup for other teams or maybe us on another day but we didn’t let it bother us.

“We got our mind on the game and I think Kev (Sinfield) taking those early penalty goals was crucial. It just settled us down and got us into the game.

“If we’d have tapped it there and not scored, we might have been all over the place.

“It was a really smart option and we’ll have to be just as smart against Huddersfield.”