Round Two of Super League gets off to a fractured start thanks to the World Club Challenge, but rugby league columnist Raj Bains is on hand to talk us through the two games being played.
"Leigh will want to win their opening home game back in the big time against one of the league’s biggest names, and will likely start the faster of the two - but Leeds should have enough in reserve to get their first two points of the season up on the board."
Odd one, this. Rather than give the rest of the league a weekend off, Huddersfield, Salford, Leigh and Leeds with be honouring their fixtures this week, possibly in a move motivated by Sky wanting games to show on Thursday and Friday night. All four sides had tough starts in Round One, and Huddersfield were the only side of the four to register a victory, although they all have some positives to take away from their opening fixtures.
Salford suffered thanks to a poor start against Wigan that they couldn't come back from, while Leeds lost narrowly in a low-scoring curtain raiser against St Helens, although both sides were fairly even. Leigh were comprehensively beaten by Cas at The Jungle, but there won't be many harder away games than that this season, and the Centurions did stifle the Tigers for a good twenty minutes at the start of the match. Huddersfield, presented with what seemed like a tricky trip to Widnes on paper, were fairly comfortable winners against the side we tipped to finish bottom of the table this season.
Here then, are the best bets for Round Two:
- Huddersfield Giants vs Salford Red Devils
Thursday 16th February, 20:00
Live on SkySports
Despite losing against Wigan at home on the opening weekend, Salford grew in to the game against one of the finest sides in the league, and showed how dangerous they can be when they get their combinations going. Keen to avoid another trip in to the Super8s, the horror of their Million Pound Game victory against Hull KR should be all the motivation they need to bring their best against a Huddersfield who've undergone major changes in the off-season.
Many had predicted that Rick Stone's men would struggle away against Widnes on the artificial surface, but the Giants had a renewed sense of purpose about them, knowing that last seasons showing wasn't anywhere close to the levels they should be aiming for. Having overhauled their squad and spent the pre-season learning how to play rugby the way Stone wishes them to, this could be a great chance to post back-to-back victories, and solidify a strong start to the season.
These two are quite evenly matched on paper, so anything could happen on the night. At home though, in front of an expectant crowd and knowing just how poor life in the bottom four can be, the Giants should be able to just about pull through, if only just.
- Leigh Centurions vs Leeds Rhinos
Friday 17th February, 20:00
Live on SkySports
The scoreline at The Jungle made Leigh seem much worse than they were, but few defences will be able to keep up with the likes of Luke Gale and Paul McShane when they're in the mood to inflict as much damage as possible. While it's true that they seemed to struggle with the pace and intensity, they didn't let their heads drop, and still managed to cause problems for a decent Castleford defence when they had the rare opportunity to.
Leeds, meanwhile, will blame poor kicking and decision making for their narrow 6-4 defeat at St Helens last time out. Having passed up the opportunity to level the scores by kicking a penalty for two, the Rhinos were unable to break the Saints line again in a match where both defences were definitely on top. Young full-back Ashton Golding was a highlight however, producing three last ditch try saving tackles in a man of the match performance.
Danny McGuire is still struggling with a quad injury that caused problems for the Rhinos last season, so they won't truly be up to full strength until their captain is able to shake off those troubles, although he has been named in the travelling squad. Leigh will want to win their opening home game back in the big time against one of the league's biggest names, and will likely start the faster of the two - but Leeds should have enough in reserve to get their first two points of the season up on the board.