We look at three key head-to-heads before Leeds host Castleford in Super League this Thursday, live on Sky Sports Arena.
What’s going wrong at Headingley? 2018 was a disaster, the Rhinos battling relegation in the Qualifiers. But despite big-name signings, Dave Furner hasn’t found the answer in 2019.
And it doesn’t get any easier. The visitors this week are the Castleford Tigers, smarting after their humbling at home to St Helens.
Leeds Rhinos vs Castleford Tigers
March 28, 2019, 7:00pm
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Here’s three head-to-heads that might decide it…
Ash Handley vs Greg Eden
There’s two left wingers who might have hoped to get an England Performance Squad call-up this week. One of those is Rhinos flyer Ash Handley. His side might be disappointing at the moment, but he’s still a man in form.
Handley’s hat-trick against Catalans in a losing battle put him top of the Super League scoring charts with eight, although he has played a game more than most. He’s inherited Ryan Hall’s spot on that left wing and is filling those big shoes so far. His yardage is big, notching up over 100m in five different games this season – giving him 819m in total from his 100 carries.
That’s at an impressive 8.19m a drive. No one has made more clean breaks than Handley with 13, while he’s also come up with 16 tackle busts. Will he keep up his form?
Castleford’s left winger might too have been paying a few envious glances towards the England squad announcement. But that would have been before last weekend. Greg Eden had, to coin a professional term, a shocker against St Helens.
He seemed to draw plenty of ire from Daryl Powell who wandered onto the pitch mid-game to berate his team, with Eden the main recipient. And he was then hooked at half-time. The winger did contribute a match-high four errors in those 40 minutes. Will Powell give him a chance to make amends against the Rhinos?
On his day, Eden is a try machine. Only Ash Handley has more scores than his seven. It’s the same story for clean breaks – with 12. He also makes relieving carries – 741m from his 90, at an impressive 8.23m a drive. But will Eden be selected?
Matt Parcell vs Paul McShane
Matt Parcell was one of the signings of the 2017 campaign, picking up a Grand Final winner’s medal in his first year in England. Mutterings of an NRL return have lingered ever since without ever materialising. Leeds could certainly do with that version of Parcell right now.
He scored tries, provided assists, made tackles and added a crucial link to Leeds’ attacking play, reading Adam Cuthbertson’s offloads in particular. Parcell has one try in 2019 and three assists. And he has Brad Dwyer for company in the Rhinos’ squad.
The pair have shared the hooking spot in 2019, Parcell starting three games but also beginning four matches from the interchange bench. Dwyer was the man to start in France against Catalans and it gives Leeds different options during a game when both are in the team. But who will Furner pick against Castleford?
Another England squad announcement, another omission of Paul McShane. You have to wonder quite what the hooker has to do to get selected. James Roby and Daryl Clark are truly outstanding players, but McShane will be disappointed not to get a look in too.
It is only Roby above McShane so far in the Man of Steel leaderboard, illustrating what a task the Castleford man has in front of him. Only four players have more assists in the competition than his seven. Only Liam Watts has made more tackles for the Tigers.
There’s also his 40 runs from dummy half and an average gain of over 7m per drive. A complete player, with many strings to his bow. All he can do is continue to perform to a high standard, starting against former club Leeds.
Trent Merrin vs Adam Milner
The rumours about Trent Merrin just won’t go away. Despite being one of Leeds’ marquee players, the Australian seems to be linked with an NRL return every week. He’s denied he’s homesick at Headingley, but there’s no doubt he’d have hoped things to be going better.
Merrin has played in all eight games so far, switching across the pack with four performances in the front row, one in the second row and three at loose forward. It’s clear what he brings to the side. Merrin has the most offloads in Super League so far, throwing 26, which is eight more than next best, Castleford’s Liam Watts.
The forward is also Leeds’ top tackler with 250 hits so far. And only Konrad Hurrell has made more metres in a Rhinos shirt, with Merrin notching up 879m from his 123 carries at an average gain of 7.15m so far. But does his future lie in England?
Adam Milner’s been one of Castleford’s star performers in recent years. He’s established himself in the loose forward position, while also offering an option at hooker if Paul McShane is unavailable. But this year, Powell has used Milner from the bench.
He’s made five appearances so far this season and none of them from the start. Nathan Massey has been the preferred starter at 13. But Milner is still a crucial part of Powell’s side and has missed two games with injury this year. He spurned NRL interest last season to sign a new three-year deal with the club.