Kirke is expecting Leeds to face war of attrition

Ian Kirke
Ian Kirke
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With Leeds Rhinos, he has won four Super League Grand Finals, appeared in thee Challenge Cup finals and two World Club Challenges: so why is it Ian Kirke does not seem to get the same acclaim as his peers?

Ask anyone to reel off the first names that enter their head when it comes to this current Headingley ensemble and, invariably, Kevin Sinfield, Rob Burrow, Danny McGuire, Jamie Peacock and Ryan Hall will be right in the mix.

Coming in close behind, people automatically picture Ryan Bailey, Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Kylie Leuluai and Carl Ablett rampaging around in blue and amber.

All have won trophies alongside Kirke but the rangy forward, who stands at 6ft 6ins, is so often the name people are left scrambling around to remember when recalling classic 17-man squads from Old Trafford, Wembley or Elland Road.

Perhaps it is because Kirke is the only one who has yet to make his international bow or maybe it is due to the fact he came to Super League so late, arriving as a 25-year-old having learned his trade with part-timers such as York Wasps and Dewsbury Rams.

It is a curious anomaly to which there is no definitive answer.

Every side has a player who knuckles down and gets on with minimum fuss. Maybe Leeds’s is Kirke.

Regardless, what he produces is certainly valued by those that matter most – coach Brian McDermott, playing colleagues and staff – and his record shows that, more often than not, come the big games, this big player is there.

It should be the case tonight when Wigan Warriors and 80 minutes of football is all that stands between them and yet another Grand Final.

Given their omnipotence with all those affairs before, what is the secret to Leeds’s legendary ability to surge home when it comes to the business end of the season?

“I read a quote which said experience gives us knowledge of how to do things but confidence allows you to do them,” he offered, when speaking to the Yorkshire Post.

“I think although we’ve got a lot of experience in the team it’s the confidence bit we sometimes miss. Yet I feel we get it back at this time of year and I don’t know why.

“Getting to the Challenge Cup final gives you confidence. You get beaten so you have a bit of a downer. But then you see light at the end of the tunnel and see there’s only so many games left.

“We always know we can win it (Super League) from there. It’s just turning up and playing as well as we can.”

Missing suspended talisman McGuire, Leeds will perhaps have to dig deeper than before if they are to reach the Grand Final again.

They have experience of defeating Wigan in the Challenge Cup semi-final, probably their best display of the season, but their revered opponents have beaten them both times in Super League.

Trying to get on top of their battle-hardened forwards will be the first target but Kirke, 31, admitted: “They’re a formidable side throughout, not only in the pack.

“They don’t have a weak position and Wigan have played well throughout the entire season, every week. It’s quite hard to do that.

“They’ll want a bit of revenge for that semi and it should be a massive game. I imagine we’ll need to be as good as that last match and they’ll be as determined as ever.

“If it’s wet, like it has been, it will become a more forward dominated game whereas in the semi there was quite a lot of breaks.

“That’s unlikely to be the case here; it’ll be more a war of attrition.”

Leeds, boosted by the return of prop Leuluai from suspension, will probably prefer that.

Without the banned McGuire’s flair, they are lacking one of their key attacking threats, while the rain could help blunt Sam Tomkins’s cutting influence and, of course, such conditions are traditionally associated with Leeds storming to Grand Final glory.

“I woke up Monday morning, saw the rain and just thought ‘It’s that time of year again’,” admitted Kirke, who successfully returned from his second concussion of the year at Catalan a week ago.

“It just feels the same as all the other run-ins.”

It is something he has grown used to since signing from York in 2006.

His story of making the grade late is unusual but one he feels will become more commonplace in the years ahead.

“There’s me, Danny Brough and Andy Raleigh... not many, but it shows it can be done,” he said.

“Super League clubs have got to change the way they look at it.

“It’s great to bring young kids through but next year – with the Under-20s being disbanded – it’s going to be more difficult to do that, especially for young front-rows who, by 18 or 19 might not have matured. I certainly hadn’t.

“I think we’ll see more coming up from the Championships.”