Leeds Rhinos v Warrington Wolves: Key battles, tactical analysis and prediction

With 14 Grand Final appearances and 16 major final wins between them including battles between the two at Wembley and Old Trafford in 2010 and 2012, there are few bigger games in Super League than when 8-time Super League Champions Leeds take on nearly men Warrington.

Since Warrington emerged as a major challenger at the top in 2010, this game has taken on new significance with the two often surviving up classic encounters including arguably the all-time greatest play-off encounter in 2011. So, spectators will be hoping for a similar contest as the two teams start their 2022 campaigns tomorrow.

Both Leeds and Warrington will have designs on taking St Helens’ title from them. For Leeds, with four major signings at the club including former Warrington half Blake Austin, this year could be their best shot at Old Trafford for five years whilst Warrington are hoping former Leeds boss Daryl Powell will breathe new life into their title hopes this year.

But as the two teams meet in Round One tomorrow, who will have the edge as they go in search of the elusive Super League trophy in 2022.

Key Battles:

Aidan Sezer v Gareth Widdop and George Williams: The build up to this game since it was announced initially centred around Blake Austin hoping to prove himself against the halfbacks Warrington chose to go with ahead of the former Canberra man in 2022. Reunited with Aidan Sezer, there was a belief that Leeds could have struck gold but Austin’s one-match ban leaves Sezer requiring a different halfback partner which could be any of Liam Sutcliffe, Richie Myler or Kruise Leeming. Whoever it is, Sezer will be the lead and will be tasked with outfoxing the daunting duo of Gareth Widdop and George Williams. Arguably the best halfback pairing in the league on paper, if they can limit Sezer’s impact on the game and in turn dictate where the contest is played, Warrington could very well claim the opening round win.

Mikolaj Oledzki v Mike Cooper: Two of Super League’s best props in 2021 and a pair of England internationals, whoever gets on top of the battle of the big boys down the middle could inspire their side to victory. Both props will be hoping to give their side the necessary platform to go on and win.

Kruise Leeming v Daryl Clarke: Leeds’ news skipper, a member of the 2021 Dream Team and now and England international takes on the nine many believe is the best in the league in the shape of former Man of Steel Daryl Clarke. Both love to control a quick ruck and cause defences problems off the back of it. So, the nine who commands the ruck better could be key in determining the result.

Where the game will be won and lost:

The big games often get decided down the middle of the field, which perhaps gives Leeds the edge. At the Halliwell Jones last year Matt Prior was particularly impressive and gave Leeds the platform they needed to win. Even in their Headingley defeat, Leeds seemed to enjoy more territory thanks to some impressive forward play, however they failed to turn this into enough points and gave up some easy opportunities to the Wolves which led to a Warrington win.

That means another key area will be the opposition 20. Leeds had difficulty in 2021 in turning chances into points and it was hoped Sezer and Austin would fix this but without their stand-off it’ll be difficult. If Warrington can take their chances, they may very well come away with the spoils.

The last key area will be the bench. In the aforementioned Headingley clash last season, Leeds ran out of juice at the end having dominated the game and they can’t afford to do that here so using the subs well and for impact will be vital.

Prediction:

Leeds may have home advantage, but they failed to beat any of the sides who finished above them at home last year. In fact, they enjoyed more success on the road meaning that the Wolves could fancy their chances.

If Leeds can get a roll on down the middle they’d be in a strong position to claim the win however, on the flip side of that, the Rhinos may struggle for points without Austin and that could be their undoing. Warrington have two notable absentees but you’d expect their side to perhaps have better balance with a near full strength pack and their first choice six and seven.

Verdict: Leeds 24-26 Warrington

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