There’s a mixed bag of fixtures taking place this week. Here are my predictions for the England test in Denver and three Super League matches…
Leeds Rhinos vs Catalans Dragons (Wed, 7:45pm)
The injury crisis continues for Leeds while results aren’t improving either, with their winless run now stretching to five games in Super League.
I expected them to put up a fight against St Helens last week and they certainly did that, and they just need to put in that kind of performance again this week, in a game that was postponed due to the snow back in the dark months of winter.
Catalans’ form was horrific back then, but five wins on the bounce had lightened the mood before defeat by a single point to Huddersfield last time out.
They have won away in the Cup and at Magic Weekend, but the Dragons are still without an away league victory. They had the beating of the Rhinos at home a few weeks ago but will do well to pick up the win at Headingley.
Prediction: Leeds Rhinos 30-22 Catalans Dragons
Castleford Tigers vs Wigan Warriors (Fri, 8:00pm)
There is already drama in this one, with Shaun Wane unhappy at the rearranged fixture going ahead despite missing three players to England while Castleford have none in Denver.
Wigan got their season back on track with an impressive performance at Hull FC last Saturday, but the absence of George Williams, John Bateman and most of all Sean O’Loughlin will be a massive blow.
Of course, Castleford have had key players absent for some time now and are growing used to it, although they will be disappointed to have followed up the tremendous win at Warrington with a dropped point against Hull KR.
The Tigers are still capable of performing in big games though and will be up for this one, and I just suspect that the same might not be true of the Warriors.
Prediction: Castleford Tigers 34-12 Wigan Warriors
Wakefield Trinity vs Widnes Vikings (Sun, 3:00pm)
The final piece of this week’s Super League action sees Widnes look to end a ten-match winless run when they travel to Wakefield.
I was really disappointed with the Vikings last week at Salford. I thought that if there was any chance for them to get out of their rut it was then, but once again the performance just wasn’t there.
I know that injuries have been an issue for a long time, but the players can also look at themselves and ask whether they are really performing as well as they can.
Wakefield have now beaten Wigan and pushed Warrington mighty close on home turf in the past two weeks, and any performance close to their best will be enough to get the two points this weekend.
Prediction: Wakefield Trinity 46-10 Widnes Vikings
England vs New Zealand (Sat, 9:10pm)
England have their first taste of international Test rugby since the narrow defeat in the World Cup final to Australia back in December, when they face New Zealand in Denver this weekend.
It’s great to see this game finally go ahead after months of uncertainty, and I’m sure the players will be raring to go.
None will be more than the debutants. I’m very surprised that Luke Thompson is the player left out of the 17, as for me he has been the best prop in Super League this season.
Tommy Makinson does finally get his chance, although I think Wayne Bennett will stick with the established wingers Ryan Hall or Jermaine McGillvary as starters, while Jake Connor will probably be on the bench as well for his utility value.
There are some big names missing but it’s mostly a familiar England side still, and it seems that any changes are being (very) slowly made rather than a large number of players being fast-tracked.
The same can’t be said for the Kiwis, with new coach Michael Maguire naming seven uncapped players in his team in the absence of some big stars.
It will be a tough introduction to Test rugby but I can understand the need for refreshments following the embarrassment of defeat to Tonga and then elimination by Fiji at the quarter-final stage of last year’s World Cup.
Matches between England and New Zealand always tend to be tight, which I find disappointing when I think that the real competition for England should be with Australia.
I’m really excited about the players that England have at the moment though, and I expect a very strong performance. Of course it won’t be easy, but if they keep their concentration for the full 80 minutes they have the quality to win the game.
Prediction: England 24-18 New Zealand