Leeds must overcome their own recent history if their season is not to end in bitter anticlimax tonight.
The Rhinos finished the regular Super League season as leaders by a record nine points, but reinforced their reputation as "chokers" last week when they lost to Bradford. Now they face Wigan, who beat them at the same stage last season to deny them a place in the Grand Final. "These are the big games where you have to go out and perform," said Leeds' leading try-scorer, Danny McGuire, who was named yesterday as the Rugby League Writers' Association's player of the year. "The season won't count for anything if we don't make the Grand Final."
Tony Smith, brought in as coach this season to give Leeds the mental toughness they need at times like this, will have to make at least one change. Andrew Dunemann is ruled out with a knee injury and Smith could be tempted to start with Ali Lauitiiti in the second row.
At least the Rhinos will not have to face the player who would remind them most vividly of their exit last year. Brian Carney scored two brilliant tries that night, but persistent hamstring problems keep him out.
Martin Aspinwall has proved a solid deputy, if lacking Carney's extreme pace, in a Wigan side which have often added up to more than the sum of their parts this season. "We need someone else to emerge as the hero this year," said their captain, Andy Farrell. That could well be Farrell himself, although there must be a doubt over how much energy he and his side can have left.
Tony Martyn will not play for Leigh in the National League One Grand Final against Whitehaven on Sunday. His arm injury has forced him to retire, but Phil Jones has been passed fit.
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