Leeds Rhinos v Wigan Warriors: Rhinos set for most intense battle of season so far in bid to take lead role

HELLO AGAIN:  Adam Cuthbertson returns for Leeds Rhinos to face Wigan on Friday night.' Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe
HELLO AGAIN: Adam Cuthbertson returns for Leeds Rhinos to face Wigan on Friday night.' Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe
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LEEDS RHINOS head coach Brian McDermott wonders whether Wigan Warriors counterpart Shaun Wane “banging on about lead runners” might be an attempt to try and influence tonight’s match officials.

The two famous clubs meet at Emerald Headingley for what should be a fascinating contest between the defending champions and visitors, who are second only to prolific Super League leaders St Helens.

Leeds will replace Wigan in second if they can maintain their impressive home record against the Cherry and Whites, who have not won at Headingley since 2012.

Asked at his weekly press conference yesterday about what he expects from their opponents, McDermott said: “I don’t know.

“I hope they play. I hope they don’t go on about lead runners all the time.

“I know they’ve been banging on about lead runners this year. Just this last week they’ve been banging on about lead runners.

CONFIDENT: Leeds Rhinos head coach Brian McDermott.' Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

CONFIDENT: Leeds Rhinos head coach Brian McDermott.' Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

“I agree. I agree with Shaun Wane. Their try that was cancelled off against Catalans (last week) was silly but I don’t think the refs have got it wrong so far this year.”

Wigan’s Joe Burgess had a try disallowed in Saturday’s 32-23 win in Perpignan due to the increasingly infuriating obstruction rule whereby a lead (dummy) runner team-mate made contact with a Catalans player in the defensive line – but so far away it would never have realistically prevented the score.

McDermott explained: “The question is was the defensive line hindered? That’s where we got to in the coaches meetings; we decided what are the guidelines and the criteria for cancelling a try off.

“What we found was too much emphasis was placed on looking at the offence – whether a bloke catches it and goes behind the lead runner or the lead runner comes across the bloke who’s out the back and that sort of thing.

It will be played at a level of intensity that we haven’t faced this year so far. It will be good for us. We know we can beat Wigan – we’re in good shape for that.

Leeds Rhinos’ head coach, Brian McDermott.

“Not enough emphasis was placed on looking at the defensive line. And the simple question is has the ‘d’ line been disadvantaged? Has it had to alter any of its actions in its ability to defend that particular play or shape?

“And if the answer is yes then they should get chalked off. I don’t think their try against Catalans should have been chalked off but I don’t think the comp’ has got it wrong so far this year.

“Just because Wigan use an incredible amount of those block plays – block, block, block, block, block … they could build 25 houses up of concrete blocks with the amount of block plays they use – then they of course are going to suffer more than most teams.

“So I don’t know whether Shaun Wane – who is more intelligent than people give him credit for – is playing a game there trying to influence the referees.

Wigan head coach Shaun Wane'.

Wigan head coach Shaun Wane'.

“I do hope we don’t see any influence of his comments on the game.”

McDermott was also asked if such comments do put undue pressure on whoever is in charge of the match?

He said: “I do hope not.

“I hope the video referee tomorrow night looks at the ‘d’ line and asks the question was anyone in the ‘d’ line at a disadvantage while trying to defend that play? Just keep asking that question.”

However, earlier this week, Wigan centre Oliver Gildart said officials need to wise-up to defending players deliberately turning in to make contact with line-runners to prevent tries from being awarded and added he felt “Leeds seem to do it a lot.”

Regardless of this ongoing debate – and there does urgently need to be some clarification to clean up a messy area of the sport – McDermott believes the game will be one of Leeds’s toughest challenges yet in 2018.

He said: “It will be played at a level of intensity that we haven’t faced this year so far. It will be good for us. We know we can beat Wigan – we’re in good shape for that. And we’re keen to do so, too.

“Wigan haven’t won here for some time. We have not won at Wigan for some time. We know we need to be good. I don’t think we’ve ever beaten Wigan and they’ve been poor.

“I know Shaun Wane always says they were ‘poor tonight’ and that’s why Leeds won but there’s always been a strong competitive game between us.”

Leeds should be bolstered by Australian Adam Cuthbertson’s return, the ball-handling prop who has been out since the end of February with a broken hand.

Wane is looking forward to the contest and admits he is an admirer of Leeds’s style.

“They’re very good, play with a lot of energy, and have some athletic individuals,” he said.

“They’re a great team. In the time since I’ve been in the first-team set-up (in 2010), Leeds have been outstanding.

“They had one tough year but have been the team to beat, and Brian needs some raps for that.”

Leeds centre/second-row Jimmy Keinhorst has joined Widnes Vikings on a four-week loan deal.

However, the German international, 27, won’t link-up with the depleted Vikings until Monday and will not be allowed to feature in their Challenge Cup game against Coventry Bears.

Former Rhinos and England prop Darrell Griffin – who last week won an unfair dismissal case against Featherstone Rovers – has signed with Keighley Cougars until the end of the season.

Bradford Bulls have signed Cas tleford Tigers’ winger Jy Hitchcox and ex-Hull KR man James Laithwaite from Toronto on a month’s loan.