By Paul Martin at Elland Road
Michael Maguire has backed the returning Moses Leota to deliver another match-defining performance on the big stage during Friday night’s semi-final against Australia.
Leota was at his destructive best when helping Penrith Panthers win the NRL Grand Final in October, delivering a string of big early hits to set the tone for his side in their victory over Parramatta Eels.
The 27-year-old is in line for just his second appearance of this World Cup after struggling with injuries but his return is timely given the absence of Jared Waerea-Hargreaves through a knock of his own.
Waerea-Hargreaves relishes the enforcer role but Maguire believes Leota and clubmate James Fisher-Harris in the front row are more than ready to fill the void at Elland Road.
“James and Moses have just come out of a Grand Final where they were two of the best players on the field, so we have a pretty handy front row,” he said.
“If they play that way again, I’m sure they’ll have a good game. They were outstanding in that Grand Final and as a player at this level, you want to play like that each week.
“With Joey Tap [Joseph Tapine] there as well, who I think is one of the best front-rowers in the game, we have a few candidates to take that [aggressive] mantle.
“Jared is gutted, he’s like a caged animal, but he’s a champion fella and off the field he understands his role.
“He wants to be on the field but he’s also a leader among the boys and he’s added in where he can.
“It’s unfortunate but he knows his mates can do the job.”
New Zealand have won just one of their last nine World Cup meetings with Australia and were beaten 34-2 last time they met the Kangaroos in this competition - the 2013 final at Old Trafford.
Turning the tables on Friday will give the Kiwis the chance to banish those painful memories at the same venue next weekend and Maguire sees the titanic last-four clash as a chance to show the progress they have made during his four years in charge.
“Australia have the runs on the board in World Cups, if that means anything,” he said.
“But this is a whole new 80 minutes. There’s a lot that’s gone in to where we are now, the players have prepared really well and this is our opportunity.
“We have a really strong group and a lot of them now play in really big games. A lot of them have played in semi-finals, Grand Finals, and those experiences lead into what we have tomorrow.
“I’ve been talking to this group for four or five years now and we set out way back to end up at this point.
“Now we have Australia in front of us and we’re really looking forward to it.”
The Rugby League World Cup promises to be the biggest, best and most inclusive event in the sport’s 127-year history with men’s, women’s and wheelchair teams competing in 61 games across 21 venues throughout England. Tickets are available via rlwc2021.com/tickets