Warrington vs Leeds: Super League opening weekend head-to-heads
By Tom Mordey
Last Updated: 02/02/19 5:11pm
Super League is back on our screens, with Warrington hosting Leeds on Saturday, live on Sky Sports Arena & Mix from 5pm.
We take a look at three key battles which could decide the outcome of the match below...
Blake Austin v Tui Lolohea
He's made all the off-season headlines, but now is the time to see Blake Austin in action. Warrington expect big things from their new marquee signing and he's already talked about loving life in his new surroundings.
The icy temperatures expected on Saturday might be something of a culture shock for Austin's game at half-back, but there's no doubt the Wolves have signed a player at the peak of his powers. He starred for Canberra, playing 88 times for the club, offering a threat with ball-in-hand as well as his organisational abilities.
Kevin Brown's long-term injury is a blow for the Wolves and means there's more pressure on Austin to deliver immediately with no time to settle in. Declan Patton is likely to step in, although Stefan Ratchford may switch from full back.
Austin is the pre-season favourite for the Man of Steel award - but Warrington will need to see more than last year's marquee signing Tyrone Roberts offered. If Austin clicks, a first Old Trafford success could be on the cards.
Facing Austin in the halves tomorrow night is a familiar face from the NRL in Tui Lolohea. He's one of three big-name arrivals from Down Under at Headingley. Although Trent Merrin and Konrad Hurrell are the marquee signings, Lolohea is expected to have a big impact as well.
A talented playmaker, he'll form a new partnership with the club's 2018 Player of the Season - Richie Myler. Super League fans might remember the half-back from England's dramatic win over Tonga in the 2017 World Cup semi-final; Lolohea scored one of the tries in Tonga's stirring comeback.
The Rhinos have also been lacking a top class goal kicker, but Lolohea has already put his hand up for the duty. His success rate in the NRL is 71 per cent, but will he take the reigns from captain Kallum Watkins? Leeds will be hoping he hits the ground running.
Daryl Clark v Matt Parcell
2018 was a good year for Daryl Clark. After a disappointing campaign in 2017 when the Wolves slipped into the Qualifiers, the hooker upped his game and reminded everyone of his talents - don't forget Clark won the 2014 Man of Steel award, dazzling with Castleford and he's a serious contender with the bookies for the award in 2019.
Clark offers Steve Price an all-round skill set. He can score tries (five in 2018), provide assists (nine last season) and certainly make metres from dummy half (2728m from 281 carries at an average gain of 9.71m a drive). But while Clark is pivotal to the tempo of Warrington's attack, he also sets the tone in defence too.
He was the only player in the side to make over 1,000 tackles last season and only Paul McShane, Danny Houghton and Matty Ashurst made more in the competition. Clark won back his England place after missing the World Cup, featuring twice in the Autumn Internationals off the bench. Will he keep his place for the Ashes?
2017 was a dream debut season for Matt Parcell. He established himself as one of Super League's best signings that year as Leeds went on to lift the trophy at Old Trafford. 2018 didn't go as well for Parcell, with the hooker's form dipping as the Rhinos crashed into the Qualifiers.
His contract is up at the end of the campaign and Parcell has long been linked with a move back to the NRL. He's an important part of the way Leeds play and has an eye for both scoring and creating tries - he notched five four pointers and six assists last season in the regular campaign - while he top scored in 2017 with 17 and provided 16 assists.
He doesn't quite offer the dummy half power Clark will do opposite the ruck, but Parcell links well with his forwards, taking offloads to link the play. He's a strong defender - with his 662 tackles last season the top of the Rhinos' pile in the regular campaign, while he also made the most in 2017, putting in over 1,000 hits.
Will Leeds see their hooker return to his best in 2019?
Chris Hill v Brad Singleton
Chris Hill is consistently one of Super League's best players. He's led the Wolves superbly, now entering his eighth season with the club, having won the Challenge Cup in that time and led his side out at Old Trafford. But that particular trophy still eludes him and his teammates.
Hill has been Warrington's captain for the last three seasons, although he will now share the duties with second rower Jack Hughes, who has been appointed co-captain. Hill is happy with Price's decision, still taking the prominent leadership role, while Hughes will step up when the prop takes a breather on the interchange bench.
Warrington will need Hill's metres again in 2019. He passed 3,000m once more last season, something he's also achieved in four previous campaigns. Hill does the dirty work in defence too, making 877 tackles last season, the third best in the Warrington side. Will 2019 finally be the season he gets his hands on the Super League trophy?
Brad Singleton continues to develop for the Rhinos. He served a suspension for the first pre-season game against Wakefield, but will be ready to face Warrington in the opening game. And the forward captained Leeds against Doncaster in a friendly last month, showing his leadership skills for the year ahead.
Singleton is now 26 and entering his best years as a front rower. He offers strong carrying skills, capable of taking the ball up and making big metres. The Ireland international signed a new deal at Headingley last season, taking him up to the end of the 2020 campaign.
He's got World Cup experience from 2017 and new Coach David Furner will expect him to step up again this year, especially with Mitch Garbutt having departed for Hull KR. Will he be able to lay the platform for the Rhinos' exciting backs?