Sinfield wary of weakened Warriors
Leeds Rhinos captain Kevin Sinfield insists his side will not under-estimate a weakened Wigan Warriors when the reigning champions meet the current leaders in the big game of First Utility Super League's Magic Weekend in Manchester on Saturday.
The Super League heavyweights bring down the curtain on the opening day at the Etihad Stadium and it promises to be a mouth-watering clash despite the absence of up to eight Warriors regulars through injury.
"I wouldn't read too much into that," Sinfield said. "We played them a couple of weeks ago when they had a few missing and we saw how close and how tough that game was.
"We're aware that, if you put a lot of young lads in a Wigan team, it's remarkable how well they play, as we saw last week at Hull. We also saw it two years ago at Headingley when they turned up with 10 or 11 missing and put 50 on us.
"We're preparing for the best of Wigan and we know it's going to be really tough. It's remarkable the amount of kids and the quality that come out of Wigan and what Shaun Wane has been able to do in creating that environment is quite unique."
Wigan's only defeat in their last 10 matches came at the hands of the Rhinos a fortnight ago, when they were dealt a huge pre-match blow with the withdrawal of injury-cursed skipper Sean O'Loughlin.
The England loose forward is again missing, along with his international team-mates Liam Farrell and Josh Charnley, but Australian full-back Matty Bowen is set to return after sitting out last week's impressive 44-16 win at Hull FC.
Twelve months ago, the Warriors became the first team to beat Leeds at the Magic Weekend and Wane is hoping they can improve on their record of four wins from seven matches so far in Super League's annual jamboree.
"I love this concept," Wane said. "I'm gutted I can't put my best team out.
"That's the way it is - there's nothing we can do. Nothing will be won or lost this weekend. We'll be up against it but, as long as we have a dig, I'll be happy."
Another close encounter is anticipated from the 222nd Hull derby, which is sure to be well attended despite clashing directly with Hull City's appearance in the FA Cup final.
Two years ago Hull KR staged a thrilling fightback, coming from 30-14 down to win 32-30 with three tries in the last 12 minutes, while 12 months ago it was Hull who pinched an equally dramatic 22-16 victory with three tries in the final seven minutes, the last of which was incorrectly awarded by video referee Steve Ganson.
"Last year was obviously disappointing but it's no consequence now to us," said Rovers coach Craig Sandercock, whose club received a public apology from Ganson. "We just need to put in a decent performance."
Rovers have an impressive record at the Magic Weekend, with five wins from their seven fixtures and appear to have the edge over a Hull FC side reeling from back-to-back home defeats - not that Sandercock is reading too much into them.
"In a derby - form tends to go out of the window," he said. "It doesn't matter which of the teams are in form or supposedly not in form. It's going to be a tough, physical battle."
Widnes Vikings and Catalan Dragons will both be aiming to complete a hat-trick of victories in the other matches on the opening day, having beaten Salford Red Devils and London Broncos respectively in both league and cup so far this year.
Salford coach Iestyn Harris is hoping for a first win in five matches to provide tangible evidence of the gradual improvement he believes is taking place under his new regime.
"I think it's a really good challenge for us," Harris said. "It's three weeks since we last played them and it will give us a good gauge of how far we've come.
"Widnes are a side that have been together a long time. They are fluent and know each other inside out."
New London coach Joe Grima will give a debut against the Dragons to French trialist Maxime Herold, who has been in the country less than a fortnight and may be more familiar with the opposition than his own team-mates.
"Communicating has been pretty tough because he doesn't have a great command of English," Grima said. "But his effort and tenacity have been great. Everything about him I like."
The Broncos, who have lost all 12 matches so far this season, have a superior Magic Weekend record to their French rivals but have been beaten in each of their last 10 meetings with the Dragons.