Few would have thought, mid-way through the season, that the Warriors could end round twenty-seven in a lowly fourth spot, let alone the Rhinos lift themselves to third and their best finish since winning the hub-cap in 2009.
After landing a belter of a punch on Damian Blanch last Friday night, with the mildest of provocation, Ryan Bailey will once again miss out on first team action just eighty minutes after coming back from injury. Brett Delaney is back in contention and Jamie Jones-Buchanan likley to get a game after being named in the nineteen last week. Rob Burrow is also named in the nineteen after missing last weeks win over the Dragons with a back problem.
The full ninteen making the trip to the DW for McDermott is; Hardaker, Jones-Bishop, Watkins, Moon, Hall, McGuire, Burrow, Leuluai, Peacock, Jones-Buchanan, Ablett, Sinfield, Delaney, Kirke, Clarkson, Achurch, Singleton, Sutcliffe, and Foster. There is still no place for Paul McShane indicating that either Burrow or Sinfield will be playing at hooker. Sutcliffe and McGuire deserve another chance at half-backs and it increasingly seems to be the problem of 'where do we play the skipper?'.
Wigan were dealt some back news during the week with their skipper Sean O'Loughlin being ruled out for the rest of the season with an achilles problem. They do, however, recall ten players who lifted the Challenge Cup but missed the losing re-match against the Airlie Birds last week.
Gil Dudson joins O'Loughlin on the injury list but ex-Union man Andy Powell keeps his shirt after picking up a try last week.
Shaun Wane names his squad as; Charnley, Crosby, Farrell, Flower, Gelling, Goulding, Green, Hansen, McIlorum, Mossop, A Powell, S Powell, Richards, Smith, Taylor, Thornley, S Tomkins, L Tomkins, and Tuson.
The Rhinos haven't won an away regular round game in Wigan since Superleague XIII when we walloped them 52-16 with a side that contained just seven players still at the club today. There is a far more recent pleasant memory from the DW though, that fantastic 13-12 play-off semi-final win last season which sent us to Old Trafford and sent the Wigan faithful home crying into their pies.
There have been some absolute classics over the years and Thursday night could be another, providing both coaches can convince their players that they want to win a trip to Warrington.
I think that the Leeds lads have the pride in their performance to want to win every match and to secure third spot, worrying about the play-offs once the regular seasons work is done. Shaun Wane has proved that he doesn't really care about the league, fielding several weakened sides throughout the season to save his big names for the key games. That tactic has seen his side slip from minor premiership contenders to battlers for third spot, but for round twenty-seven he has named the best side that he can to do battle with the Champions.
The bookies agree with me and have given the Rhinos a six point start on the coupon. I think that is spot on and that the returning stars will have enough to turn over the Rhinos who are still experimenting with their best side for the play-offs.
The weather for tomorrow is forecast to be fine but overcast with a temperature in the top teens. There is some rain on the way and it could be timed for around kick-off, which could put a whole different complexion on the night.
It should be a stormer and I just hope that both sets of players do it justice, and that we can keep injury free for the mammoth task ahead on the road to Old Trafford.