Familar faces set to do battle at Headingley


It will be a battle between familiar faces on Friday as Leeds Rhinos welcome Hull FC to Headingley for the sides first home game of the season.

Brad Dwyer and Liam Sutcliffe will be returning to face their old teammates just weeks into their careers at their new club, while Rohan Smith will be coaching against his uncle Tony Smith.

Leeds Rhinos return to Headingley off the back of a dismal 42-10 defeat at the hands of a fired up Warrington Wolves. Rohan Smith’s side struggled to stop the momentum of Warrington on Thursday night and some soft defensive efforts allowed the Wolves to run rampant. Richie Myler in particular had a tricky night at fullback defending the kicking game of Warrington. 

One shining light for the Rhinos fans was Justin Sangare who put in an impressive performance from the bench and scored a try on his competitive debut for the club.

Friday’s visitors began their 2023 campaign with a 32-30 victory over Castleford Tigers. The black and whites raced out to a 26-6 half time lead against Castleford before being pegged back in the second half.

Brad Dwyer and Tex Hoy impressed on debuts for Hull FC while both wingers, Adam Swift and Darnell McIntosh, scored a brace of tries. Hoy especially showcased what he can bring to the side, including throwing a number of spectacular long passes to set up tries for his team.

While all the talk in the off season was the signings of Jake Trueman and Jake Clifford as the sides first choice halfback pairing, Ben McNamara showed that he shouldn’t be ignored as he too was influential in Hull’s success on Sunday. 

Both teams came through their respective games relatively unscathed, and have even been able to include some players that missed out in round one. 

Tony Smith has named Andre Savelio who could make his first appearance of the season while Harvey Barron has been brought in to replace Ligi Sao who is still struggling with a dead leg that kept him out of round one.

Rohan Smith has been able to call up new signing Nene Macdonald for the first time. The PNG international has been out with a leg injury that he sustained playing for the Kumuls in autumn’s Rugby League World Cup.The Rhinos are still without a number of senior players including James Bentley, Harry Newman and 2022 Super League Dream Team prop Mikolaj Oledzki.

Leeds Rhinos fans will be hoping that the inclusion of Macdonald will bolster their side defensively as Leeds struggled to defend on the edge with a makeshift centre pairing of Ash Handley and Luis Roberts. 

Looking ahead to Friday’s game, I believe that Leeds Rhinos need to start Cameron Smith and Jarrod O’Connor. 

Smith operating as a loose forward offers another option as a ball player in the middle and frees up Aiden Sezer and Blake Austin to attack wider and create overloads on the edge. 

Although not a hooker by trade, O’Connor has developed into a solid dummy half and his service when he entered the field on Thursday helped to speed up the Rhinos attack. By starting O’Connor Leeds can get quick ball at the start of the game and then bring on Kruise Leeming to target tiring defenders in the middle of the game.

Tony Smith and Hull FC have far less selection issues to worry about. Despite capitulating somewhat in the second half in their season opener, there was plenty to get excited about if you are a Hull FC fan. The spine of the team led from the front on Sunday and played some exciting attacking rugby, 

Brad Dwyer showed exactly what he can bring to a side sniping around the ruck and he will be hoping to show his old side what they are missing out on by doing more of the same on Friday night. 

Although Hull got broken down on the edge by Castleford on multiple occasions last week, this has to be expected given the fact that they have a number of new signings playing across the back line. These combinations should strengthen from week to week as the players get more experience playing together.

Despite a short turnaround for the black and whites, something that Tony Smith was quick to shut down as a talking point, I think that Hull will be too strong for the Rhinos. The Rhinos looked sluggish throughout against Warrington while Hull looked sharp in attack and if they can put together an 8- minute performance it may be a similar scoreline to their 31-8 victory at Headingley in 2022.

If the Rhinos are to be successful they will need to go back to what they did best last year which was tenacious scramble defence and attacking from deep.

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