Having again qualified with relative ease for the playoffs Leeds Rhinos are looking to make their reputation as end-of-season specialists count this weekend as they visit the Warrington Wolves in the qualifying round.
Despite triumphing in the Final 12, months ago against the Wolves, Warrington have been on a sterling run of late, winning 11 of their final 12 League games of the season. Bringing that run of form will be important but will not deter Leeds, having won six of the last seven competitions at this stage. They will be looking to make Super League XVIII their third title in a row, despite only finishing fifth in the league prior to each tournament stage.
In each of those seasons Warrington and Wigan chose the Rhino’s as their Club Call respectively. This decision was to their detriment and Leeds will enter this season’s four week play off as serious contenders for the title with increased pressure and expectation being the only difference. However, finishing in second this year, Warrington have been gradually improving in this competition and will no doubt see themselves as the favourites here.
The Wolves saw off the Rhino’s in a close home encounter earlier in July and will be looking to repeat the same feat. Fighting for a place in the third week, just one game away from the final at Old Trafford, the losing side would progress only into the second week, with the potential to be called on to face the toughest side from these qualifiers before advancing.
Although Leeds have had to do this for the past two seasons the advantage in rest and preparation would be a welcome luxury.
Each side enters this tie at close to full strength as Leeds have been able to recall prop Ryan Bailey, who makes the squad at the expense of young back-row Alex Foster.
Warrington remain unchanged after their sterling run but manager Tony Smith is being cautious about their chances after Leeds’ dominance over previous seasons. He said: “Leeds haven’t been defeated in the play offs for the last couple of years, and that’s going to be an advantage for them but we’d like to think we’ve learned from [reaching the Grand Final] last year, and hopefully we can take that into this game on Saturday.”