Carnegie Ambassador Barrie McDermott gives his thoughts ahead of the Carnegie Challenge Cup semi-finals.
Saturday, 07 August 2010
Leeds v St Helens, Semi Final, 14:30
The Leeds v St Helens semi final is intriguing because over the last five
years they have certainly been the two teams that tend to be battling it out
in the big games. If you look at the recent history in 2003 Leeds won it in
extra time and then in 2008 Saints beat Leeds at the Galpharm and went on to
beat Hull in the final that year. There’s a lot of history between these
two sides, a lot of passion and a lot of feeling between the two sets of
fans. There’s been more than a couple of matches in recent history when
it’s boiled over and tempers have got frayed so it all leads up towards
being a very exciting game.
If you look at the form for both sides, they are both winning but not
playing great. Leeds have had a fairly patchy season by their own incredibly
high standards but have shown recent signs of a return to form. But hey are
a side with pedigree written throughout the squad and have the capability to
beat anyone on their day. The Rhinos know that to be remembered as one of
the truly great Leeds sides, they need to add the Carnegie Challenge Cup to
their trophy cabinet and this year they have as good a chance as any to
bring the 11 year barren spell in the competition to an end.
St Helens will also feel aggrieved, having let their grasp on the trophy
slip last year and will want to avenge the recent league decent at the hands
of the Super League champions. Their record in this competition is
unmatched in recent years, but there are sure to be fireworks in this
Ones to watch:
In recent weeks Leeds have relied heavily on the brilliance of Kevin
Sinfield. He’s been like a metronome this season and has kept the Rhinos
ticking over, even when their form has been less than impressive. They’ll
be looking to him to lead the side and keep the scoreboard moving through
the accuracy of his boot.
Saint Helens demolished Wakefield recently and the return of Leon Pryce is a
big indicator that they are going to do well. He has an outstanding ability
to score tries, set tries up and trouble defences of any side.
Leeds have been able to choose virtually a full strength side in recent
weeks apart from the long term absence of Greg Eastwood, so for the Rhinos
they have everybody they want on the big stage to make those important
For the Saints side the only noticeable injury is to Kyle Eastmond, but a
Carnegie Challenge Cup semi final is just the type of game that a coach
might risk a player, particularly a player of his importance. He’s so quick
and so agile and his evasiveness could really trouble the Rhinos. If was at
60/40 or 70/30 then I’m sure that Mick Potter would take that risk.
I think the key battles will be in the halves and the decision makers for
both teams. Kevin Sinfield and Leon Pryce are the guys that will make the
decisions with the packs both level pegging. These two are probably the
best at their position in the country if not the world and Sinfield has
carried the Rhinos side on more that one occasion this season. If these
players make the correct decisions and deal with the pressure in the right
way then whichever one handles it better will influence the result.
Where the game will be won and lost:
As in all matches the game will be won and lost in the forwards and
particularly for the Rhinos Kylie Leuluai has been the most consistent
performer in the pack. He’s been really strong in defence and absolutely
immense with the ball and when it comes to making those hard yards Leuluai
along with Jamie Peacock are the two blokes that stick their hands up and
take that ball going forward.
For the Saints side James Graham and Tony Puletua are vital if they are
going to succeed in this game. James Graham is the new breed of rugby
league player, and he’s the player that starts that long sweeping move that
St Helens are famous for, he’s got great offloading skills and a real eye
for a short or longer pass. Puletua is very strong, very direct, got a good
offloading game. A lot of the second phase stuff that the Saints side will
do, these two will be at the centre of that.
For my match prediction I think it’s going to be tighter than a submarine
door and I think they’ll be only two or four or maybe six points in it. I
think that history in big games will go with the Rhinos particularly in the
Super League Grand Finals. They’ve outsmarted and outplayed and beaten the
Saints side in recent years, that may well motivate St Helens, but if I had
to put my neck on the block then I’d go for the Rhinos
Sunday, 08 August 2010
Warrington v Catalans Dragons, Semi Final, 15:30
This second semi final is different from the Leeds v Saints game because
there is an overriding favourite in Warrington who are the cup holders. In
2009 winning the cup gave them the confidence to go into 2010 and it’s
motivated them to believe that they are big game players and a big game
team. Tony Smith has instilled that confidence and instilled that work
ethic, particularly in defence. They are very strong in defence, whilst
still being a constant threat in attack and with players like Solomona with
his offloading skills and ball handling ability, they are a real threat.
Monaghan around the middle and Morley with his steel and grit and
determination means they are a formidable team.
A month ago you’d have look at this semi final between Warrington and
Catalans and you’d have thought it’s only going to go one way. But in round
23 of Super League Warrington went over to Catalans and were beaten and well
beaten as well. A more enthusiastic, a more inventive, a more passionate
side represented Catalans that day.
It’s going to be a fantastic game and although Catalans are languishing at
the bottom of the table and Warrington are up near the top, I don’t think
that’s going to count for too much.
Ones to watch:
In terms of the ones to watch Warrington winger Chris Hicks is a lethal try
scorer, he’s scored 26 tries to date so he definitely knows where that try
line is. For the Catalans Dragons Brent Sherwin’s introduction since he
came across from the Castleford Tigers, he’s made a big difference. They
lost Mogg early in the season and lost Bird at the end of last season and
they were perhaps missing that midfield general. Thomas Bosc is a fantastic
player, but he is unable to guide and steer that team around the pitch on
his own and Brent Sherwin has just allowed him to take a step backwards and
have the same game personality on the pitch that for the last few years has
served him so well in that roving role and that free reign that adds so much
to his game.
Where the game will be won and lost:
The Catalans Dragons and their strength in the pack is very important
because they are up against the best in the business. We’ve talked about
Wood and Anderson, allay them with Morley, Monaghan, Ben Harrison, they are
some of the best forwards in the game. Adrian Morley in particular if not
the best front rower, is certainly within the top two or three in the league
still at 33 years of age. Adrian Morley and his pack of forwards know that
they are going to be in a battle, there’s going to be plenty of bang and
biff and collision in the middle. I think it’s the side that keeps its
composure and plays behind the percentages, in the big games it’s perhaps
not the big player that wins it but the little things done really well that
makes the difference. It’s about how you get to your kicks, it’s about not
making that mistake at the play the ball, particularly if you look at how
the referees are marshalling whether you put your foot on the ball as you
play it. It’s those little one percenters that make the difference in a big
In terms of predicting this semi final I can’t look past Warrington. I
think they’ve got far too much pedigree, far too much determination and far
too much armoury really. I think that although the Catalans side will go
and fight hard and they’ll make it difficult, I can’t look beyond Warrington
and I think they’ll enjoy their day at Widnes.