Sky Sports rugby league expert Barrie McDermott looks at Leeds Rhinos’ start to the season, two players making a big impact for their respective teams and an Australian great lending his support to Rob Burrow…
Steady progress for Rhinos
When we watched Leeds Rhinos in that first game of the 2020 Super League season against Hull FC, the 30-4 defeat was a bit of a shock to the system.
There was optimism on the back of the new signings and it looked like Luke Gale was going to be the solution to the problems around half-back and the direction of the team.
Leeds Rhinos vs Warrington Wolves
February 28, 2020, 7:00pm
I watched them in a couple of pre-season friendlies too and they looked decent, like a different side with a different approach, but the first game against Hull was a short, sharp lesson because they were at home with a lot of fans there and they were miles off.
They were steamrollered by a big pack and Hull left a bit of a bruise on Leeds. But they picked themselves up and have made steady progress since.
Everybody who knows our game understands for it to be a good season in Super League, all of the strong teams are usually front-runners – Wigan, St Helens, Warrington and Leeds all need to be having stellar seasons.
If you include Hull in there as a 2020 example, we’ve got full stadiums, electric atmospheres and games that matter. It’s always worth reminding the fans the role they can play when they get behind their team and create that atmosphere too.
It just lifts everything and everybody, so with those five teams being there or thereabouts it looks like, from Leeds’ perspective, they’re on a slow and steady incline.
It will be a big test for them on Friday at home to Warrington, who haven’t been perfect themselves, but I believe if the Rhinos can get a result against the Wolves they can start to feel a glimmer of hope, and start thinking in positive terms of the top five.
Huddersfield making Giant strides
I’ll be honest, in January before a ball was passed I tipped Huddersfield to finish bottom of Super League because they’ve toiled over the last three or four years with more or less the same squad.
I have to hold my hands up, I probably didn’t give Aidan Sezer enough credit, but the man who played scrum-half for Canberra Raiders in last year’s NRL Grand Final has come in and transformed Huddersfield and the players.
That one signing has lifted everybody else’s game 10 or 15 per cent and their top-of-the-table game at home to Wigan on Sunday is shaping up to be an outstanding one.
It’s an exciting time to be a Giants fan. If I wasn’t at the Sky games I would be genuinely interested to see if the Giants have enough belief to go into a game against the Warriors expecting to come out on the other side with a victory.
They’re a team I think are going to prove a lot of people wrong. It’s a long season, but they’ve certainly proved me wrong so far and if you look at the three games they’ve played, they’ve won every single one and looked very impressive doing it.
That was even the case in the 12-10 win away to Salford, because I would say last year Huddersfield might have got into the arm-wrestle and folded in the last 10 or 15 minutes with the game in the balance.
They had enough resolve to get out of jail because even Sezer, who got man of the match on Sky Sports, said he wasn’t at his best. But his “not at my best” was enough to get the victory, which we haven’t seen from Huddersfield over the last few years.
Gigot signing a coup for Wolfpack
Tony Gigot is a player who most sides would want in their squad because he is so unpredictable, and he has got the winning of a game in his own hands.
What you do get with mavericks is they don’t deliver every week and you can get a different player three or four weeks on the trot. But the best Tony Gigot is as good as any player in this competition because he’s got beautiful balance and the courage of his convictions.
He’ll do things and get it wrong, and then he’ll do it again two or three minutes later, so I’m surprised sides who were short of that maverick player didn’t look at him as an option.
Toronto Wolfpack vs St Helens
February 29, 2020, 6:00pm
That might be down to finances, but I think whoever made the decision to bring him in on a trial basis at Toronto Wolfpack may have saved their bacon.
They’ve got the two Wigan players, Jack Wells and Ben Kilner, signed on loan in time for Saturday’s game against St Helens as well, and the side suddenly changes from head coach Brian McDermott only being able to name 19 players in his squad two weeks ago.
I never thought, for one minute, 23 players was going to be enough for Toronto, but with everyone fit, and loan players and Gigot available, they look to have more depth. It still looks a skinny squad, but you could make an argument it will be enough.
Thurston steps up for Burrow
It was fantastic to be at Headingley on Tuesday evening when Australian great Johnathan Thurston was the guest for a benefit night in support of Rob Burrow.
We were lucky enough to be able to take advantage of a friend of mine having Johnathan in this country for a few speaking engagements, along with him having a bond because of the World Club Challenge and international matches to commit to doing something for Rob.
But most important is him being an incredible human being who has empathy for a guy who is going through a rough time and needs his rugby league family to be at the side of him.
We had 300 people there who were mesmerised by every word he said and every story he told, and our Sky Sports colleague Brian Carney was really skilled in getting things out of him I hadn’t heard before.
We came away having a different appreciation on him as a rugby player and specifically his goal-kicking. He talked about his practice and routine, and the things he’s had to deal with which made me think differently about him in that respect.
The Rhinos were very good as well and we had Mick Speight from MJK Sports Events who – a bit like Tony Gigot at Toronto! – allowed us to loan JT as an amateur, for no wages, so every penny raised on the night all went to Rob.
Rob is in great spirits and I know he appreciated Johnathan and Brian giving up their time, and everyone who came to support the event as well.
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