SUPER LEAGUE expert Kaine Greenwood (@RetroPress) has run the rule over Friday night’s mouthwatering contest between Wigan and Leeds at the DW.
Wigan Warriors v Leeds Rhinos | Wednesday 20.00 | Sky Sports 2
Wigan Warriors up against Leeds Rhinos – the kind of battle that gets the juices flowing.
I’m inclined to suggest that commentary of such a meeting could only be mastered by the great Sir David Attenborough’s tone and the drama on it is usually similar in its quality.
Rugby League actually has a connection to the acclaimed naturist from his time as controller of BBC Two. The Floodlit Trophy had a 15-year stint on terrestrial television with Attenbrough said to have been a driving force behind its creation and, as a result, 21 clubs saw to the installation of lighting at their stadiums.
Fast-forward to 2016 and despite the channel-hop, I do hope Sir David tunes in for this one. The lights are sure to shine as bright, if not brighter, as the first switch-on in that competition.
The Warriors have cast aside all in their path ahead of this showdown at a perfect 4-and-4 but have done so with something of a limp, collecting a few blows from Salford and Hull FC in particular.
Shaun Wane isn’t prepared to take any chances in a game of such magnitude here however and has made the call to drop young full-back Lewis Tierney – who has deputised for the injured England international Sam Tomkins in the opening five games of Warriors’ season to date – because “there are a few things in his game he needs to work on“.
The Cherry and Whites decision-maker is probably aware that despite their West Yorkshire rivals only picking up their first win a week ago, you have to be close to perfect in your approach to a tie against the treble-winners.
Just six months on from the humdinger that was served up by these sides in the Grand Final showpiece, the Rhinos are rebuilding from the losses of Jamie Peacock and Kevin Sinfield, through who most things flowed in a remarkable decade of success.
Beau Fallon is named in the Leeds squad ready to make his league debut after a foot injury while life-long Leeds man Jamie Jones-Buchanan is back in the fold after an eight-month lay-off.
Adam Cuthbertson put in some impressive displays alongside those who have departed but the all-round attributes of Rhinos full-back Zak Hardaker saw him collect the Man of Steel trophy for the best player in the competition, meaning he is a go-to guy moving forward.
Hardaker was a last line of defence on more times than any stats-sheet can truly reflect in what was his own quadruple-winning season adding attacking threat with 22 clean breaks and 10 tries.
John Bateman is, in my opinion, a future winner of the same individual accolade. A supreme second-row talent who, much like Hardaker, regularly produces on both sides of the ball.
Bateman comes into this match leading the team for tackles (167) and did so for the 2014 and ’15 seasons. He has led or topped stats for clean breaks, tackle busts and metres made the same period. A true leader!
This battle almost calls for Sky Sports to bring back their former Frankie Goes To Hollywood intro, and regardless, I expect they will still ‘go to war’ from start to finish here. The winner of such events are usually those with the strongest leader and, in Bateman, Wigan have just that.
His performances – and those of fellow international teammate Hardaker in the Leeds strip – are indicative of the numbers they produce, meaning I would be surprised if neither were in the discussion to take home the champagne come the final hooter.
Wigan Warriors v Leeds Rhinos – John Bateman to be named Man of the Match (10/1 BetVictor)
Wigan Warriors v Leeds Rhinos – Zak Hardaker to be named Man of the Match (16/1 Ladbrokes)
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