Strife of Brian
Stevo says all-conquering Leeds can be beaten, but can't see Brian Noble's Wigan side doing it.
Last Updated: 05/04/08 7:49pm
It goes without saying, but this is a big, big ask for Wigan.
The one thing Brian Noble will be hoping for other than Trent Barrett being fit, is a dry track because there's nothing that boy loves more than galloping about a dry paddock.
But then again, so do Rob Burrow, Brent Webb and this red-hot Leeds team.
In fact, the speed this Rhinos side possess is going to be Wigan's biggest problem. For a start, how do you stop their quick play-the-balls, which they have got as near to perfection? If I were Brian that would be the first thing I'd have been working on this week.
You have to get control and you have to get good field position before you can do anything. Wigan have to get in the opposition half before they even think about kicking to this Leeds side. And even then, they can strike from deep in their own territory.
The one thing you have to try and do is defuse Leeds, put them off their game. Castleford did it, so while we are all wondering how you can stop this Rhinos outfit, that game shows it can be done. And I don't buy into the hangover, head-in-the-clouds theory, it can be done.
Sometimes sides perform better when their backs are to the wall and Brian and his players should be relishing the chance to prove everybody wrong.
But they cannot afford to go to Headingley and just worry about what they do. They have to prepare for Leeds as well because if Wigan even try to match Leeds man-for-man, they - like most Super League sides - will get blown away.
That said, there are still some fascinating battles that will be crucial to the outcome, none more so than Kevin Sinfield against Sean O'Loughlin. Privately these two will both be thinking they should have that loose forward spot in England's World Cup - especially with Tony Smith sat in the stands.
It's a shame that Sinfield might end up playing at stand-off in the absence of young Danny McGuire. Not a great shame for Leeds because he will slip straight in there, but a shame we might not get the comparison we would have liked.
And then you have two old muckers bashing hell out of each other in Jamie Peacock and Stuart Fielden. This could be a big test for Fielden who, I think it's fair to say, is yet to recapture his former glories, when he was the best forward in the world.
All it takes is a couple of big hits and he could well be back, and what better place to do it than the home of the champions against Peacock? Like I say, Wigan's chances will depend on how they perform as a team, but there is still plenty of spice scattered all over this one.
Richie Mathers and Mark Calderwood will head back across the Pennines determined to show the Leeds public they are still as good as they ever were, while I do think Mickey Higham has a point to prove this season.
It's no secret that Brian tried to bring Terry Newton in from Bradford to be that spark that ignites the Wigan engine, but it didn't come off - and there are also one or two other positions where Noble can't select who he might like.
But, what better place for these players to show their worth than at Headingley on Saturday? If they are going to, Wigan will have to come out all guns blazing, put Leeds on the back foot and then, when they come along, take what chances come their way.
Defence, decent field position and the kick and chase will all have to be spot on and they cannot afford to switch off. Sounds easy, doesn't it?
Home win - This is going to be a hard, hard battle, but what else can I do put stick with Leeds? You used to be able to beat Leeds by bashing them in the forwards, but now they bash you back just as hard; you used to be able say Leeds had a soft underbelly, but now they have a six-pack that could break rocks; they used to give away too many penalties, but now it is the opposition falling foul of the official because they cannot cope with the sheer speed. It's hard to see where Wigan can win this, but if they want to, they will have to have a superb defensive pattern in place and they will have to disrupt the Rhinos. I have no fears for Wigan once they're in that red zone, but getting there might be another matter...
Stevo's star man
Iafeta Paleaasina (Wigan) - He is the one player Wigan will need to upset the Rhinos. There is no way he can play the full 80 minutes so it depends on when and how he is used, but he is the one player Wigan have that makes things happen, spreads panic in a defence. Gareth Hock is a sad loss and Andy Coley has done his best but Noble doesn't have the big, physical pack that he was used to at Bradford, so Paleaaesina will be central to their chances. Also, keep an eye out for O'Loughlin versus Sinfield...
Leeds by 1-5pts is 7/2 with Sky Bet. To have a flutter click here!