Two heavyweights of the Wheelchair Rugby League game will collide tomorrow as Leeds Rhinos travel to face Halifax Panthers in Round 2 of the Wheelchair Super League.
After sweeping North Wales Crusaders 70-20 in their opening fixture two weeks ago, the Rhinos now prepare for a much sterner test at 2019 champions Halifax, who will be playing for the first time this year after receiving a bye in the opening round of matches.
With the Rhinos last tasting defeat against Halifax way back in the 2019 Grand Final, star man Nathan Collins is looking forward to an early test of their title credentials and knows just how difficult the task at hand will be.
“We’re really looking forward to going up against Halifax this weekend, who are one of the best sides in the Wheelchair game with some top players,” said Collins.
“They’ve got several internationals and some who are in the England squad with us like Rob Hawkins, so we know what they’re capable of doing and we have huge respect for them as a team that have won a lot of trophies and battled us in many finals.
“They’re going to be one of the toughest teams we face all season and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them back there at the dance again come the end of the season.”
The West Yorkshire rivals met on four occasions last season, with the Rhinos coming out on top each time as they completed a historic treble and gained local bragging rights in the process.
It was not without a scare in the Playoff Semi-Finals though, as the Panthers launched a late comeback from five scores down to almost snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, something which Collins will be mindful of as they renew their rivalry this weekend.
“We know we have to be right on our game from the first whistle and take it up a level from our first performance because Halifax have got such a talented squad of players who will take advantage if we aren’t on it.
“It will be a really fast-paced game and we know we’ve got to keep our concentration for the full 80 minutes because they’ve got the ability to change the game really quickly and go on a big run. If we can do that, then hopefully we can come away with another huge win.”
There will certainly be no love lost between the two teams on the pitch this Sunday, although they remain good friends away from it having come through some epic battles in the past and forged relationships in both the domestic and international game.
After a rather disappointing year last time out in which they surrendered their crown to the Rhinos, Collins expects the Panthers to go all out for revenge this weekend in order to end their long winning streak.
“They’ll obviously want to knock us off our perch, but it’s not just Halifax. I think all the teams will be gunning for us this season, especially Wigan who’ve had a red hot start and brought in some good players and the promoted sides coming up looking to make their mark on the competition.
“We came up short against them in 2019, but what happened last year by winning the treble showed that all the hard work and effort we put in after that game to not suffer a repeat was all worthwhile.
“It’s a tough game for us against Halifax but that just makes it more enjoyable to play in, if anything. We want to put on an entertaining product for the people watching and when there’s so many talented players on the pitch at once it’s the best possible advert for the Wheelchair game which is great.”
The action gets underway at 1:45pm tomorrow, with the game being played at Halifax’s Calderdale College base. Follow Leeds Rhinos Foundation on Twitter @RugbyLeeds for score updates.
Leeds Rhinos Wheelchair squad vs Halifax Panthers:
James Simpson (c)