Archive for the ‘Leeds Rhinos’ Category

Super League Grand Final Super Duper Grand Preview

October 10, 2009

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Previous Meetings: Saints have a 2-1 edge this season, with their cup win at Headingley the only time the away side won this game this year. They’ve been fairly even over the last few years, although it’s worth pointing out that Leeds have won their last two encounters at Old Trafford. 

Backline: Saints have the experience, Leeds have the talent, although the Rhinos aren’t exactly lacking in experience here and the Saints line-up isn’t too shabby. Leeds definitely seem to have a pace advantage. The wild-card in all of this is Kyle Eastmond, who is supposed to be a halfback but has spent most of this season roving in from the threequarter line, often to explosive effect. He is also the only person in either threequarter line never to play in the Grand Final, and along with Paul Wellens the only man not to score in the big game. Will he cower under the spotlight? I sort of doubt it.

Halves: Perhaps the most crucial battle in this match. Sean Long and Rob Burrow are both probably going to cancel each other out, although Long will try his hardest in his last ever Saints game. However, at Stand-Off we have a confrontation that in the last few years has extended beyond the Leeds-Saints rivalry: Leon Pryce or Danny McGuire? Since Pryce moved to Knowsley Rd the winner of this battle has usually been on the victorious side (the possible exception being their last regualr season game). Pryce has been mailing it in the last few months, whilst McGuire got a double in his last game. Pryce needs to pull his weight for Saints to win. 

Back Row: Both sides are pretty evenly mached at the back of the scrum. Leeds skew a bit younger, but Saints have Lee Gilmour (who might also end up in the centres) who remains one of the most underrated players in Super League. Leeds also have Ali Lauitiiti back, and he’s seemed to be Saints’ nemesis the last few times they have met. Look for Kevin Sinfield to carry out his usual playmaking role and for Jon Wilkin to occasionally do the same (although his kicking game was woeful last week). 

Front Row: This should be fun. In James Graham and Jamie Peacock, this confrontation features the two best English props not named Morley, and they’re ably backed up by the likes of Kylie Leuluai (consistent go-forward) and Maurie Fa’asavalu (who seemed back in form during the Wigan game). There’s also an underrated subplot to this game going on here – both James Roby and Matt Diskin will be wanting to show they have what it takes to be rake for the England FOur Nations campaign (Roby will almost definitely be in the squad, but this might be Diskin’s last chance to prove himself worthy). 

Coach: Brian McLennan has a pretty good track record in big finals, winning the Tri-Nations with New Zealand and only losing the second time in extra time. He’s also won at Old Trafford at his first attempt last year. He also seems to know when to mix it up and when to change the gameplan, which will be a boon tonight. This is Mick Potter’s first Grand Final as a coach, but he was Coach of the Year last season. People have criticized his management of Saints this year and this is his chance to prove them wrong.

In Conclusion… everything seems to be pointing towards a Rhinos victory, except for one thing: I’ve seen Saints live in three finals before (2006 & 2008 CC Final, 2006 GF) and they’ve won all three games, convincingly as well. Personally, I don’t think either of these sides will crush the other one, and I expect a good tough battle. If it rains, that plays into Leeds’ hands, although the forecast is currently saying it will just stay cloudy. Either Leeds are going to have the class to outmanouvre Saints (they’ve scored readily down the flanks in the last two Grand Finals) or Saints are going to send off Sean Long properly, which is something I keep coming back to. Never underestimate the poer of a good story…

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Leeds Rhinos 27 – 20 Catalan Dragons

October 3, 2009

So the fairytale run of the Dragons came to an end last night, but they didn’t give up without a fight. When Danny McGuire dummied his way over for the first try, it looked like Leeds had calmed down after a nervy start. Then McGuire let the kick-off go out on the full and Les Cats scored straight from the ensuing scrum thanks to Vincent Duport. Leeds somehow came of a first half in which they were being matched shot-for-shot by a resilient Dragons side with an 18 point lead thanks to a purple patch to end all purple patches, which saw two tries to Ryan Hall and an absolute beauty of a team effort finished off by McGuire. When Scott Donald went over at the start of the second half, it looked like the Dragons’ run was going to end with a damp squib, but Greg Bird and Adam Mogg wouldn’t allow it. Not only did they gain some respect back, the set up a nervy end but pulling scores back. When Kevin Sinfield popped over a drop-goal with 25 minutes left, it seemed like an over-cautious shutdown operation by the Rhinos. As it turned out it was probably the most intelligent piece of play all night, because it kept the Dragons that psychologically-diffcult second score away from the Rhinos. 

This was one of those rare games where I’m not sure the better team won. In fact, I’m still not entirely sure how the Rhinos pulled away so dramatically just before half-time. Up until that point they appeared to be losing the forward battle. Next thing you know, they’re four scores ahead and the game appears to be over. It’s a tremendous credit to the Dragons that that wasn’t necessarily the case. For the most part they seemed to be bossing it in the forwards, and they certainly never seemed to be outmatched. Duport took his hat-trick nicely, which isn’t bad for a player who was originally a back-rower. Adam Mogg and Greg Bird were superb, and England should hope that Mogg isn’t able to take his place for France in the Four Nations (he might not play as his wife is due to give birth). Les Cats might rue taking off Bird just before half-time, even if he probably needed the rest for his own good. For large portions of the game and particularly the second half, it looked the Dragons were all over Leeds. It was a shame for them that they were 22 points down at that point. 

Give Credit to Leeds though. In that ten minute spell just before and after half-time they were electric. I didn’t agree with the commentators going on about how awesome Danny McGuire was playing (he wasn’t that good, and I consider myself something of a McGuire apologist) but he sure as hell took his first try nicely, and his positioning to run onto Donald’s kick for his second try (very possibly try of the season, and certainly try of the playoffs so far) was also top-notch. He was in the right place at the right time, something that applied to all the Rhinos’ players in that spell. Jamie Peacock was a workhorse for his stay on the pitch, and Luke Burgess’ arrival on the pitch coincided with the Leeds explosion as he introduced a 2nd phase play that had been missing from the Rhinos at that point. The Rhinos rode their luck a bit, but they still came out of the game as worthy victors.

So the Dragons get a winter of rest in the south of France, whilst the Rhinos’ march towards an unprecedented third Grand Final victory continues. Leeds probably picked the Dragons with their ClubCall pick assuming that St Helens and Wigan would beat the crap out of each other, but the Rhinos have just had to endure a game of extreme physical intensity and will be glad that they’ve got an extra rest day. They conceded some very soft tries from scrums and that will have to be worked on for next week, but at the very least they won’t have the excuse of a soft preparation should anything go wrong. In fact, this game was probably the exact sort of warm-up the Rhinos needed; a reminder that they can’t just walk over every team.

Playoff Preview: Leeds Rhinos vs Catalan Dragons

October 2, 2009

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Previous Meetings: Leeds won two of the three previous meetings this season, both by considerable margins. The Dragons did, however, win the last meeting between the two. Les Cats have never won at Headingley.

Form: Both are red hot right now. Leeds have been crushing opposition for about two months now whilst the Dragons have somehow won three away games in a row (all fairly convincingly). 

Personnel Concerns: Both sides are considering recalling previously missing forwards in Luke Burgess and Jamal Fakir. In Fakir’s case this would be a huge gamble as he has missed most of the season.

Thoughts: The fisr ever ClubCall match sees a meeting between two of the in-form teams in the competition. Leeds ended up cruising to a League Leader’s Shield and walked over Hull KR, although it’s hard to tell how much of that was KR failing due to tiredness. The Dragons are winning away from home regularly in these playoffs and their pack has been immense. Olivier Elima (declared French captain this week) is probably the form forward in the competition right now.

The main problem for the Dragons is that they’ve won by bashing the opposition packs out of the game. I don’t see this happening to Leeds. They have been playing some exciting stuff in the last few weeks but they’ve been allowed to. The main thing in the Dragons’ favour is that Leeds might be soft from a week off. Alternatively, they might be nicely rested. 

In Conclusion… I find it hard to pick against the Dragons, particularly after their domination over the last few weeks, but I find it even harder to pick against the Rhinos who have been looking more and more like the champions-elect for the last few months, and they won’t be bullied in the same way the Dragons’ other opposition have been recently. I expect it’ll at least start off close before the Rhinos pull away later on.

Leeds Rhinos 44 – 8 Hull KR

September 18, 2009

Hmm. I can’t say that I thought the scoreboard was indicative of the competitiveness displayed in this game, but it did serve as a warning to the rest of Super League. Leeds were clearly the better side here, with Jamie Peacock leading the way in a dominating forward display, but they didn’t add the sheen to the score until the final quarter of the game. By that time the Robins were clearly knackered, having played most of the game a man down as Chev Walker suffered one of the nastier injuries I’ve seen at a rugby game (it seemed to be a compound leg fracture, and I was hoping that what I saw was merely some part of his shin pad and not bone). In the end, it proved all too much for KR. 

Michael Dobson and Paul Cooke were ineffectual tonight. They helped control the play to some extent but they lacked any real cutting edge (even their try relied on being gifted field position). Leeds by contrast were able to bomb a few chances and still rack up 44 points (even if over half of them came late in the game). The more I watch Leeds, the more I notice how crucial Danny McGuire is to their game – at one point, I thought his game could’ve been politely described as ‘mediocre’, but then I realised the first two tries came off his kicks, and he also put Ali Lauitiiti in for a try as well. I understand why people call him a glorified support-player and he’s one of the most frustrating players to watch, but I do now feel people underestimate his play-making ability and especially his kicking game (in attack, at least). 

However the main men for Leeds were Peacock (destructive all night) and Lauitiiti, whose handling skills are a delight to watch, and it was fantastic seeing both of them score tries. The backs obviously benefited from this combination of graft and flash going on in the forwards, as a worn-down Hull side wilted in the final quarter allowing Ryan Hall to add to his ever-growing try collection and Keith Senior to finish off the game by powering away from a knackered collection of Red and White players.

One word to describe Leeds: ominous. They went through a wobbly patch in the first half, but once they came out of that they started to steamroll ahead. Now they get a week’s break to give their players some rest and get the ‘club call’, choosing their semi-final opponents. It wouldn’t surprise me if they picked KR again, but that depends on the Robins winning next week. They should get Shaun Briscoe and Clint Newton back next week, which will be crucial because they need all the help they can get to get out of this minor slump.

Playoff Preview: Leeds Rhinos vs Hull KR

September 18, 2009

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Previous meetings: Leeds won both games this season, but they were close. They were fairly lucky to scrape a 19-10 victory at Craven Park earlier in the season, and they won the return game 24-14. The Robins have only beaten Leeds once in Super League, and that was their first meeting with them in 2007, although no game between the two in that time has been decided by more than 16 points. 

Form: This favours Leeds at the minute, who have won eleven of their last twelve games and finished the season looking ominous, although they were pushed hard by both St Helens and (surprisingly) Salford. Hull KR looked to be in good form with a five-match winning streak, but that came to an end in a rather flat performance against Wakefield last Saturday that Justin Morgan will hope was an aberration. 

Injury Concerns: None really for Leeds, although Kevin Sinfield is returning from a cheekbone injury. Hull KR might a little worried about the condition of Scott Murrell and especially Shaun Briscoe (as might England). 

Thoughts: The key to this game will probably be whether Michael Dobosn and Paul Cooke can exert their influence on this game. Last week at Wakefield they failed to do this and as a result the KR side looked lifeless and completely unthreatening. Briscoe leaving the field probably didn’t help with that either, but it’s important that Hull KR find an attacking edge in this game. 

Of course, a strong performance from the forward pack would help with that, and Clint Newton and Ben Galea have been immense for the Robins this year and will need to continue in that vein of form for any chance of successs. The thing about Leeds is that their midfield triangle of Rob Burrow, Danny McGuire and Sinfield make for a difficult trifecta to defend against because none of them dominate procedings – they spread the work around. If Hull KR can get in their faces early, especially Sinfield (who’s probably the no.1 organiser there) then that too will increase their chances of victory.

Something that will definitely be in Leeds’ favour though is their attacking form, which has been fantastic. Leeds have scored at least five tries in four of their last five games, the exception being the St Helens game (which they still won). Ryan Hall must surely have booked himself a spot on the wing for England’s Four Nations campaign. In an intriguing battle Peter Fox, who will be lining up opposite Hall for The Robins, will be trying to prove that he deserves to be there as well. 

In Conclusion… It might end up being close, but I find it very hard to see anything other than a Leeds victory here. They appear to have hit form at exactly the right time and Hull didn’t look up to the task last week. I imagine we’ll get a fairly tight first half, before Leeds dominate for a long enough spell to put the game out of reach.

Monday Musings: Rhinos On The Charge

July 13, 2009

A few weeks ago I went to see Harlequins play Leeds Rhinos. Quins had already beaten Leeds at Headingley earlier in the season and were coming off of a resounding televised victory against Hull KR the week before, so I was expecting to see a good, well fought, close game. I saw that for one half of the game, but once Will Sharp threw one of the most ill-judged passes into touch that I’ve seen in a good long time (and with it any momentum) Leeds took complete charge and ended up cruising to victory by a score of 48-14. I was wondering at the time if Leeds, who seemed to have been a shadow of their former selves at stages during this season, had finally rediscovered the form that had taken them to two consecutive Super League titles. 

About a month later, I’m still not entirely sure that Leeds are there yet, but they’re certainly heading in the right direction. They now have eight wins in their last nine games (the loss being a narrow defeat in Perpignan to the Dragons) and have managed to be verging on uber-threatening at various stages during that time. They also seem to have luck on their side, although they do deserve credit for finding the will to score two tries in the final three minutes to snatch victory at Wakefield. The fact that they had to do this does suggest that the Rhinos machine isn’t completely operational yet, but it does appear to be warming up nicely as the playoffs approach. 

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Lee Smith to leave Rhinos

June 19, 2009

It’s been rumoured for a while, and it was announced today that Lee Smith (reigning Harry Sunderland Trophy holder) will be leaving the Rhinos at the end of the season. Smith says he wants to ‘move on to a new challenge’. Am I being cynical when I think that said ‘challenge’ involves some of this stuff?

Wherever he goes, I hope he manages to settle into a fixed position. Of course, the rumours are that he’ll be crossing codes, in which case it will be interesting to see how long he lasts.

Catalan Dragons 16 – 36 Leeds

May 4, 2009

The proverbial game of two halfs here, as Leeds managed to look a lot like both the team that won the competition last season and also the team that has clearly been struggling over the past few months. Both sides will take some positives out of the game and both teams looked good in patches, but both teams will be worried by the inconsistency that they displayed in the game. 

In the first half, Leeds were clinical and destructive. They took their chances well and looked to have regained the cutting edge that had been sorely missing in the previous month. When Brent Webb and Ryan Hall finished off long range efforts in quick succession (Hall’s was straight off the restart) it looked like the Rhinos of old were back. Hall had a very impressive first half, as did the Rhonos pack which set the tone of dominance. The Dragons simply looked shell-shocked. 

The second half was a lot more rugged, and generally captivated less interest in the spectator. Catalan Dragons managed to improve their game, and suddenly a 30 point deficit became a 20 point deficit, with tries early in the second half to Kane Bentley and Olivier Elima. Had they managed to score another not long after that the game might have become interesting again, with Leeds looking pretty flat and the Dragons suddenly playing with a sense of urgency. Unfortunately they couldn’t do it, and Scott Donald’s interception killed off a game that really had died a good while before. Although Casey McGuire was able to confirm the Dragons’ position of ascendancy in the second half with a late score, it was far too little far too late.

Personally, this struck as a game in which neither side will have come out of it feeling particularly good. The Dragons were absolutely shocking in the first half, and although they should be pleased with the signs of improvement in the second half, they should feel frustrated that their first half performance essentially rendered the good work they did later on null and void. As for Leeds, the looked like they were back to their lethal best in the first half, and yet somehow managed to lose that killer edge again in the second half.

Leeds Rhinos 20 – 28 Manly Sea Eagles

March 1, 2009

For a long time, I thought the scoreboard wasn’t going to do Leeds justice. After having just about kept themselves in the game at half time, being behind at the interval by a 12-4 scoreline, they suddenly found themselves completely out of the game around seven minutes after restarting, as Manly hit them with one of the most intense blitzkreigs of scintillating Rugby seen in quite a while. Three tries (three very very good tries) meant that suddenly Manly were 26-4 up with half an hour to play, and a Rhinos side that had coped admirably thus far with adversity (Rob Burrow went off very early on after being laid flat out) looked like they were going to be uncharacteristically overwhelmed.

It’s to Leeds’ credit that they not only pulled the scoreline back to respectable margins, but that they could possibly sneaked it had they been a little more composed and took full advantage of the switch in momentum that took place in the final quarter. It’s to Manly’s credit that they didn’t really look like letting Leeds pull it back, and most of the tries that they conceded were those of a team who knew they were going to win and had taken their foot off the gas. When Leeds looked like they might be sneaking back into it, Manly upped the intensity again and closed out the game. Indeed, the whole game had a very intense feel about it, as shown by the two all-in brawls that took place (one in each half). In the end, Manly were far more able to cope with that intensity.

I suspect Leeds will look at this game as a missed opportunity on two counts. Firstly, this was the first World Club Challenge for a while where the Super League side were the ones under-strength, with Danny Buderus missing and Rob Burrow starting his first game of the season, only to get knocked out of it early on. Secondly, they will be disappointed by their horror showing just after the break. It’s hard to emphasise enough how much of a gut-punch it is to concede back-to-back tries, so to concede back-to-back-to-back tries really must have smashed Leeds’ confidence and left them with far too much to do in the final quarter. Their little burst at the end makes one wonder what the game might have been like if it was close heading into the final quarter.

I kind of suspect that Manly would have won anyway. Their pack generally outmuscled a young set of Rhinos forwards (with the exception of Ali Lauitiiti whose ball-handling game in the second half did as much as anything else to drag Leeds back into it) and their backs… well, what’s to say? This is an insanely good set of backs that would not look out of place at all in the Test arena. Brett Stewart is a pure finisher, and even though his tries weren’t as spectacular as some he’s scored for the Sea Eagles before, he still showed an uncanny knack for being in the right place at the right time. With the likes of Lyon, Matai, Orford etc to back him up and indeed put chances on a plate for him, it’s a backline probably unparalleled in club rugby right now (hell, most international sides don’t have a lineup that good either) and ultimately finishing ability (from both the backs and the forwards) was what won Manly this game.

Leeds Toughing It Out

February 21, 2009

Torrential conditions at Craven Park yesterday meant that we got to see a pretty hard, tough game, and although Hull KR put up a decent fight they eventually had to succumb to Leeds’ pressure. The turning point came when Jake Webster was deemed to have knocked on in the process of what would’ve been a go-ahead score for Rovers with five minutes to play, as the Rhinos scored a pretty nifty try via Kallum Watkins a few minutes later.

For a lot of the game I thought KR were the better side. In the end an inability to finish opportunities proved their downfall (combined with Leeds’ ability to take their chances). However, with a close defeat here and a draw at Odsal last week the Robins at least look like they’ll be a tough nut to crack and look like definite playoff contenders. As for Leeds, they appear to be missing Brent Webb and especially Rob Burrow as they have been lacking attacking spark in the last few weeks. Even so, they’ve got three wins out of three and their defence has been rock-solid (two tries conceded in three games). With Manly coming up next week they’ll need to keep it that way and also hopefully regain their offensive mojo.