Dewi Morris previews our live Good Friday clash between GP strugglers Leeds and Newcastle.
Last Updated: 22/03/08 10:55am
This season was always going to be an uphill battle for Leeds, purely based on the strength of this Premiership; it gets stronger and stronger every year.
They didn't really sign anyone of any note. They are a good honest side but unless you sign big players in key positions, like the big teams do, then you are going to struggle.
I enjoy watching Leeds play, they are a proud side that play good rugby. But I felt from the start of the season that it was going to be a tough campaign and unfortunately I have been proven right.
This game is their biggest game of the season so far. Mathematically they won't be down if they lose but I do fear for them and realistically it will be bye-bye if they lose again.
If it is goodbye then Leeds will want to work hard to retain players to make sure they bounce straight back but, realistically, you have to expect some of them to follow club captain Stuart Hooper and move on in the summer.
It will all depend on the financial situation and the state of certain players' contracts, but more than a few of them will have caught the eye of the rest of the Premiership.
It would be time for Tom Biggs to move on; he is a little livewire. We have seen what Shane Williams can do and while I am not putting him in Williams' class at the moment, we know what he can do with decent ball and a bit of momentum. He is a class act.
Jonny Hepworth in the centre is another who might have caught the eye and of course Hooper is already off to Bath.
Newcastle meanwhile are in a bit of a mess, it would seem. I know they have lost a lot of players to England and they will all be coming back this weekend - a certain Mr Wilkinson will want to prove a point I am sure.
If they are to fight their way in to the top six and next season's Heineken Cup then they will need the very best out of Wilkinson and Matt Tait, Jamie Noon and Toby Flood. But I think it is beyond them already to be honest.
Last week Newcastle parted company with coaches John Fletcher and Peter Walton and I know that some players have been upset by that. They signed on the pretence that they would be there with those good, honest guys, but Dave Thompson is the owner and he signs the cheques.
He has made his decision, feeling that this coaching group wasn't going to take them into the top six and that perhaps they were too close to the players.
Mr Thompson doesn't mince his words and that is what happens in the professional game - he will make his decisions whether the players like it or not and time only will tell if those players will perform better under England Saxons coach Steve Bates, now in the hot seat.
Newcastle are one of those teams that can perform brilliantly but I watched their game against Bristol recently and while they didn't lie down and showed a lot of fight and spirit, the simple things let them down.
The lineout was poor, they lost too much ball in contact, too many balls were passed behind the receiver and there was a general lack of fluidity in their play. Also if you buy one of the best tighthead props in the world, Carl Hayman, you have to have the right players around him as well.
It is all well and good having an exciting back division but you need ball and momentum from your forwards.
One of the simple things is winning your lineouts and Dave Thompson's son, Matt, was on duty at hooker and the ironic cheer of the day came when he was substituted because the lineout was shocking. I am not blaming the hooker but he must be responsible for some of this and that is one area that has to be sorted.
On their day they can be a force to be reckoned with but they have underachieved now for too many seasons. They have more travelling to do than any other team - maybe that is a factor - but it is time for them to pull their collective finger out and reward those loyal fans.
From what I am being told though, Newcastle is not a happy club and if the owner, management and players don't sort that out soon then some more people might be leaving the club.
The club has seven games left to turn the season around and the return of the England quartet this weekend should give them a lift.
Wilkinson says he doesn't have a point to prove - if you listen to his interviews he is saying there is nothing wrong - but that wasn't evident from what I saw on Saturday when we saw the England back-line function because someone stands flat and doesn't stutter too much.
He just has to go back and play the way he wants to play and ignite this back line. I think we might see an angry man on Friday night. Behind all the nice words I am sure he is desperate to get the England 10 shirt back.
Flood seemed to enjoy a new release of life playing outside Danny Cipriani and Noon was outstanding, as he is normally, in doing his job.
Tait meanwhile should have been playing 15 all through he Six Nations and he, I imagine, will be happy to be back getting some game time. It is up to Steve Bates where he picks him but I hope he plays him at 15, where he might serve England.
You can leave Noon and Flood together outside Wilkinson with Tait at the back and if those four flourish in Newcastle's colours for the rest of the season, then they should be off with Brian Ashton this summer to New Zealand.