There are few games as big as Wigan v Leeds. Marketed as ‘the war of the roses’ by the Warriors, the tag line certainly does the fixture justice as it will certainly be a ‘war’ between two great teams. Rivals for decades, the two teams contested the very first Grand Final and often butt heads at the business end of the season. This should be a massive match.
The Warriors come into the game revitalised after a disappointing 2021 campaign thanks to a superb showing against Hull KR last week. After a year struggling to score, the Cherry and Whites showed flair with the ball in hand scoring plenty of long range tries as they downed Hull KR.
As for Leeds, they were bitterly disappointed to come up without a win against Warrington in Round One. They were the best team against Warrington, even when a man down, and lost to a late Connor Wrench try. It’ll interesting to see whether they turn that hurt into a determined showing or whether that hurt and the subsequent fatigue of playing with 12 causes a hangover leading to defeat.
Wigan have one major casualty following the win at Hull KR with Iain Thornley now unavailable. However, it shouldn’t be much of a problem especially the way Jake Bibby and Liam Marshall excelled last week. They could also call upon signing Abbas Miski.
Leeds meanwhile will be without James Bentley and Brad Dwyer through suspension whilst Richie Myler is out through injury. Rhyse Martin is in Australia following the passing of his father. Leeds will also be sweating on Harry Newman’s fitness after he missed last week. Blake Austin is in line to debut and Corey Johnson should figure after returning from a loan spell at Bradford.
Jai Field v Jack Walker: Against Warrington, Jack Walker made his first Super League appearance for 16 months and didn’t look out of place. Still young and with all the attributes to make him a top fullback, he’ll be hoping to kick on after that positive start last week. But, to outplay his opposite number this week, he’ll need to conjure up a performance akin to his very best which we haven’t seen for a long time due to injury. Opposing him is a Jai Field who looks like a different player after an injury hit 2021. He was superb against Hull KR and shone in pre-season. He could cause Leeds a lot of problems come Friday.
Cade Cust v Aidan Sezer: Wigan and Leeds needed a new halfback going into 2022 but the two took on a different approach. The Warriors turned to the NRL and drafted in Cade Cust whilst Leeds went for someone with Super League experience in Aidan Sezer. Both shone last week proving to be exactly what their new club needs but the halfback who controls the game on Friday could be the key to victory.
Kaide Ellis v Zane Tetevano: Two former Penrith forwards, Kaide Ellis will make his home debut for the Warriors against Zane Tetevano who joined the Panthers just as Ellis went the other day. Ellis seems to be exactly what Wigan needed to bring in but this will be a massive test against a Rhinos pack who rolled Warrington down field last week with Tetevano shining and scoring.
Where the game will be won and lost
Traditionally you’d say the side who dominates the middle channel will win the game, but Leeds’ defeat to Warrington last week showed that may not always be the case. The Rhinos struggled to convert territory into tries against the Wolves and this game could hinge on whether they can change that at the DW.
If not, the Warriors proved they have the tools to score from long range against Hull KR. Leeds also proved susceptible to conceding a long range try last week, so if the Rhinos don’t take their chances the Warriors could very well score without the need for too much territory.
The worry for Leeds this weekend is whether it will be a repeat of the Warrington defeat in terms of dominating the game yet losing. They do have Blake Austin back who could sharpen their attack this week. However, there is still a doubt over whether they can score the points needed to win against the Warriors.
If they can’t it could be a disappointing rerun of the Warrington defeat. A good performance but not the result they wanted.
Verdict: Wigan Warriors 20-10 Leeds Rhinos