In-form Leeds have the chance to go top of Betfred Super League and keep Toronto rooted to the bottom when former coach Brian McDermott returns to Headingley on Thursday night.
Can the Wolfpack halt Rhinos’ charge?
Last Saturday’s 32-0 defeat to Super League champions St Helens left Toronto bottom of the table and still without a win to their name after five matches.
It does not get any easier for the Canadian side as this Thursday they travel to a Leeds Rhinos team full of confidence after securing a 36-0 win at home to Warrington Wolves in round five.
Although their attacking game was off against Saints, the Wolfpack earned praise for their defensive work prior to being down to 12 men following Bodene Thompson’s second-half red card.
Former Toronto director of rugby Brian Noble, who will be Sky Sports‘ studio guest for the match at Headingley, believes the clash with the Rhinos offers the perfect stage to right the wrongs from last weekend’s loss as well.
“There are only two things a head coach can ask for,” Noble told Sky Sports. “That’s effort and a little bit of toughness here and there.
“They’ve got to make better decisions about what they’re doing with the ball at what time, but I think in the first four games they were showing signs of improvement.
“Against Saints, it was a bridge too far and they took some backwards steps, but they’ve got to get back on the horse and you wouldn’t want a better fixture than Leeds at Headingley.
“It’s one of the greatest fixtures a club can go to and experience, and if you approach it in the manner of how you might be able to get them, you’re always in with a chance there.”
Hurrell brings ‘X-factor’ to Leeds
Konrad Hurrell’s post-match celebrations in dancing as ‘Marching On Together’ played over the PA system at Headingley following the win over Warrington drew almost as much attention as his display during the match.
The Tonga international centre was in devastating form for the Rhinos in that game, capping a performance which saw him terrorise the Wolves’ defence whenever he had the ball in hand by being among the try-scorers for the hosts.
It is no wonder Hurrell has become a fans’ favourite at Headingley since moving to Yorkshire from NRL side Gold Coast Titans, winning the supporters’ player-of-the-year award in 2019.
He has made a big impression on head coach Richard Agar as well, who will no doubt be hoping to see another blockbusting display from the 28-year-old when Toronto come to town.
“He’s good value,” said Agar. “He’s good fun and great to have around and with his rugby he’s got the bit between the teeth at the minute.
“He’s really hungry for work and it’s a great sign when Konny wants the ball in his hands because he brings the X-factor, he’s so hard to handle.”
McDermott takes on former side
Brian McDermott returns to Headingley on Thursday to face his old club for the first time since his sacking in July 2018.
McDermott guided Leeds to four Super League titles during his seven years in charge but is still seeking his first Super League win with the Wolfpack, who were nilled for the first time in their short history by St Helens.
The former Bradford forward was back at Leeds for both the season launch and the Wolfpack’s opening match, which was played at Headingley as part of a Super League double-header and ended in defeat by Castleford, and he has tried to play down the significance of Thursday’s match.
Leeds Rhinos vs Toronto Wolfpack
March 5, 2020, 7:00pm
“I have been back there a couple of times,” said McDermott. “I think my presence will be irrelevant.
“Leeds have got their own story going on now. They had a really good win last week.”
Leeds are aiming to win four matches in a row for the first time since their Grand Final-winning season of 2017 under McDermott.
Toronto have already suffered as many defeats as they did in their entire 2018 Championship campaign when they lost twice in the regular season, two more times in the Super 8s Qualifiers and then to London Broncos in the Million Pound Game.
However, Toronto have fond memories that year of their inaugural trip to Headingley, where they gained a 17-16 victory over Leeds thanks to a late Gareth O’Brien drop-goal.
Leeds are without full-back Jack Walker, who has failed to recover from a foot injury sustained in the 36-0 win over Warrington, but coach Richard Agar has options.
He could turn to the versatile Liam Sutcliffe, who has missed the last two games with a knee injury, or stick with Richie Myler, who produced a man-of-the-match performance as a makeshift full-back last Friday.
Second rower Joe Greenwood is hoping to make his Leeds debut – and his 100th career appearance – after joining the club on loan from Wigan.
The match will also mark the 300th career appearance of the Rhinos’ stand-in captain Luke Gale, while on a night of landmarks Toronto’s former Leeds prop Anthony Mullally will make the 200th appearance of his career.
McDermott hopes to give Australian prop Darcy Lussick a belated Super League debut after recovering from a hernia operation while second-rower Thompson is free to make the 200th appearance of his career after avoiding suspension for his dismissal against St Helens.
Centre Chase Stanley is not yet ready to make his first appearance of the season after only arriving in the country at the weekend following visa issues but prop Ben Kilner could make his Super League debut after joining the club on loan from Wigan.
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