THE LAST time Brian McDermott and Daryl Powell got together for a press conference it was ahead of October’s Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford.
The pair were able to joke yesterday, recalling the moment they did one of those always awkward boxing style head-to-head picture shoots, thankfully a remit that was not required this time around at Elland Road.
The Leeds Rhinos and Castleford Tigers head coaches were at Leeds United’s ground ahead of Friday’s self-titled The Clash – the second such game Leeds have taken to the home of their city neighbours while Headingley is being revamped.
The first was at the start of February when Hull KR arrived in only the second week of the season, which attracted a crowd of 16,149.
Rhinos officials hope Friday’s attendance will challenge the Super League record of 25,004, set when Wigan Warriors hosted St Helens in 2005.
Leeds, of course, won the title decider five months ago – there was little for Powell to laugh about that night – despite their opponents claiming the League Leaders’ Shield by a record margin of 10 points.
Castleford hope to correct that this term although, at the moment, all they actually want is to get a game of rugby be it at Elland Road, Headingley or Lock Lane.
Sunday’s home match against Wigan Warriors was postponed due to the bad weather, just like their game at Hull KR, so they have only played once this month.
They were also without a fixture the weekend Leeds were in Australia for the World Club Challenge. Powell conceded: “It is frustrating. We haven’t been able to get any fluency to our season.
“But it is what it is. The table is a little bit unbalanced, isn’t it?
“Warrington have played seven games, we’ve played four. We just have to crack on. This (Elland Road) is a decent surface and we’re looking forward to getting out on the field again.”
Leeds, in contrast, enjoyed a fine victory over previously unbeaten leaders St Helens on Friday, but McDermott knows they have to raise the bar again.
“I know how good Cas can be,” he said, his side having lost eight successive matches against them before getting it right when it mattered most at Old Trafford.
“By Daryl’s own admission I don’t think they’ve hit their straps yet. I don’t think any team has. It’s been a clunky start for everyone really as the weather has had such a bearing on it.
“When they’re good they are an extremely hard team to defend against. And even when you defend them – ie don’t concede a line break or a try – they stretch you so much so that by the time you get the ball you’re still putting yourself back together.
“They’ve been doing that for the last two or three years, certainly against Leeds.
“Their attack’s been really good so that will come this year for them. We’re hoping they’re still clunky on Friday night.”
An obvious line of enquiry entails what part that Grand Final nightmare – Castleford saved their worst display of the year for the most important game – might play in this first re-match.
“I don’t think we need to talk about it too much,” insisted Powell, whose side have won all three games since an opening-night loss at Saints.
“Clearly it was a disappointing end to last season for us. You get motivation from different things and the way it ended, regardless of who we were playing against, I think is going to play a part this season. But we’re not going to jump up and down about it.
By Daryl’s own admission I don’t think they’ve hit their straps yet. I don’t think any team has. It’s been a clunky start for everyone really as the weather has had such a bearing on it.
“Friday is a game that’s important to us; we are trying to piece our combinations together and we are still working hard on that. There’s some good signs from us, but we are a work in progress.”
The same can be said of Leeds albeit they are rolling along nice ly with four wins from five.
As McDermott attests, it will be nice if the weather relents not only to ensure fans arrive in numbers but so that the players can show their true quality.
On the prospect of facing Castleford again, he added: “I’m sure they’ll bring a level of intensity that we’ve not seen this year.
“If you’re talking about that sort of landscape then we’ll have to be really good to beat them.
“But it’s one of those occasions during the early part of the season where you have to test yourselves to find where you’re at.
“Even if we get beat by Cas we’ll get something from it. These things improve you; the losses improve you, not the wins.
“Certainly when we get beat by Cas we all sulk for a couple of days and then the desire to improve is increased.”
A fact undoubtedly proven last year when Leeds produced that stunning endgame to lift an eighth Super League title.