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Super League: Leeds Rhinos v St Helens preview
Newly-crowned Tetley’s Challenge Cup winners Leeds return to Super League action by welcoming leaders St Helens to Headingley on Friday night.
Brian McDermott’s Rhinos ended a sequence of six successive final defeats when they cruised to a 23-10 victory over Yorkshire rivals Castleford Tigers in London to lift the Challenge Cup at Wembley last weekend.
Attention immediately returns to league affairs however, and with just four points separating Saints at the summit from sixth-placed Huddersfield Giants there is plenty to play for in the closing weeks of the regular season.
With just three rounds remaining Leeds are also four points adrift of Nathan Brown’s table-toppers and Friday’s clash in West Yorkshire could play a significant role in the destination of the League Leaders’ Shield.
Prior to their Challenge Cup success the Rhinos lost back-to-back Super League outings, becoming the first side to bow to London Broncos as the capital club ended a run of 23 straight defeats with a 40-36 win at The Hive.
Saints, meanwhile, have lost just one of their last five league matches and recorded a morale-boosting 40-16 win against Wakefield Wildcats in Round 24 after losing to Hull FC the previous week.
McDermott has entrusted the same 17 who played in the Challenge Cup victory against Castleford, with Mitch Achurch and Brad Singleton both coming into the squad.
Despite being named in the 19-man squad for Wembley, Achurch missed the final cut but is determined to using his disappointment as a driving force to success.
"I got the full experience," he explained in the Yorkshire Evening Post. "I did all the training sessions with the boys, I had to know the game plan in and out and I warmed up.
"It didn't really hit me until the end of the game, when obviously we'd won and I wasn't really part of the celebrations.
"It was tough, but it probably drives me a bit harder to be part of this team for hopefully the Super League Grand Final."
After his two tries in the final, Ryan Hall needs just one more to reach 200 career touchdowns, while Rob Burrow is 15 points short of 1000 points for the Rhinos.
For Saints, Lance Hohaia makes his return to the traveling party but Gary Wheeler misses out after sustaining a groin injury, although it is not expected to keep him sidelined for too long.
Leeds may be vying for a league and cup double, but one man determined to thwart their progress and end St Helens' six-year trophy drought is captain Paul Wellens.
"When it comes to the play-offs you want to be battle-hardened and playing intense rugby," he told Boots 'n' All. "That's how it's going to be come that time of year.
"In our final three games we’ll get to see where we're at and what we need to improve on come play-off time.
"If winning Grand Finals was easy everybody would do it. That's not the case. You have to expend every bit of energy you have to get there."
Leeds Rhinos: Hardaker, Watkins, Moon, Hall, McGuire, Burrow, Leuluai, Aiton, Peacock, Jones-Buchanan, Ablett, Sinfield, Delaney, Bailey, Kirke, Achurch, Briscoe, Sutcliffe, Singleton
St Helens: Makinson, Turner, Jones, Swift, Hohaia, Masoe, Roby, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Soliola, Manu, Laffranchi, Flanagan, Amor, Wellens, Walmsley, Percival, Dawson, Richards, McDonnell
Watch Leeds Rhinos v St Helens live on Sky Sports 1HD on Friday night, with coverage starting from 7:30pm
Super League Table
|9||Hull K R||27||23|
|10||Salford Red Devils||27||23|
|13||Bradford Bulls *||27||10|
|First Utility Super League|
|Thursday 5th February|
|20:00||Widnes vs Wigan|
|Friday 6th February|
|20:00||St Helens vs Catalans Dragons|
|Sunday 8th February|
|15:00||Huddersfield vs Hull|
|15:00||Warrington vs Salford|
|15:00||Hull K R vs Leeds|
|15:30||Castleford vs Wakefield|
|Thursday 12th February|
|20:00||Salford vs St Helens|
|Friday 13th February|
|20:00||Hull vs Warrington|
|20:00||Leeds vs Widnes|
|20:00||Wigan vs Huddersfield|
|First Utility Super League|
|Saturday 11th October|
|St Helens 14 - 6 Wigan|
|Friday 3rd October|
|Wigan 16 - 12 Warrington|
|Thursday 2nd October|
|St Helens 30 - 12 Catalans Dragons|
|Friday 26th September|
|Huddersfield 16 - 18 Catalans Dragons|
|Thursday 25th September|
|Castleford 14 - 30 Warrington|
|Saturday 20th September|
|Leeds 20 - 24 Catalans Dragons|
|Warrington 22 - 19 Widnes|
|Friday 19th September|
|St Helens 41 - 0 Castleford|
|Thursday 18th September|
|Wigan 57 - 4 Huddersfield|
|Sunday 14th September|
|Wakefield 18 - 42 Hull K R|
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