RECALLED WINGER Justin Carney admits the player whose spot he has taken at Wembley today “deserves” to be in Castleford Tigers’ team.
Carney will return to Tigers’ side for today’s Tetley’s Challenge Cup final showdown with Leeds Rhinos after completing a two-game ban, which meant he missed the semi-final win over Widnes Vikings 13 days ago.
He was also suspended when Castleford won at Wigan Warriors in the previous round and in both cases James Clare filled in.
Clare has been left out of Tigers’ initial 19-man Wembley squad, with Carney and Kirk Dixon set to start on the wings.
And Carney, who is this year’s Challenge Cup leading scorer, with seven tries, said: “It is good to be in the team, but James Clare has been putting in good performances, especially in the quarter-final and the semi-final.
“He has been playing out of his skin and I really want to thank him for the opportunity to play at Wembley.
“It is a big relief to be in the team, but I am humble about it too. I have been in that position before and it’s not a great position, but that’s why we are a squad.
“That’s just the game. I have been left out of big games before and it is a tough pill to swallow, but you realise it is about the team.
“Personally I think James deserves that spot, but Daryl (Powell) is the coach and he will pick the team he thinks will perform and whatever happens, happens.”
Carney believes Clare’s time will come.
He added: “He is a great kid, great attitude and what he adds to the team, with his upbeat vibe, is awesome.
“I wish him well and hopefully he will get another opportunity.”
Carney said he is keen to repay his team-mates after missing crucial matches through suspension. “During the Wigan game was the most nervous I have ever been,” he said. “I have never been so nervous, because I couldn’t go out and help the guys.
“It was nerve-racking, but I think I can help the guys just by doing what I do best, that’s playing my game and not getting too caught up in over-playing. That’s what I’ll concentrate on.” A two-week break wasn’t ideal, but Carney feels it may have been beneficial at a crucial stage of the season.
“I would rather have been playing,” he admitted. “You don’t ever want to be not playing, but I have freshened up a bit and I am raring to go.”
The final will be the biggest game of Carney’s career, but he is confident he will be able to handle the occasion.
“I haven’t played on the biggest stage before,” the Aussie said.
“I will just try and stay composed and worry about myself and my game.
“I’ll try not to get over-excited, though it will be hard on the day.
“I don’t want to get too eager, I’ll just try and stay calm and collected and go out there and play.”
This afternoon’s final – the first at Wembley between two West Yorkshire teams since 1973 – has the hallmarks of a classic.
Carney said: “Leeds are a great team. Pretty much the core of their group have achieved a lot of goals over their career and this year they have been the side to beat. They are going to perform the best they can and we are going to have to match it and challenge them in every way.
“As long as we put up a good fight I am sure it will work itself out.”
ANDY LYNCH is ready to set the record straight when Castleford Tigers face Leeds Rhinos at Wembley this afternoon.
Lynch was a member of the Hull team beaten by Wigan Warriors in last year’s Challenge Cup final and the front-rower said: “That was difficult, but we have had a good week and you learn from your experiences.
“I am looking to put a wrong right and I think we’ve got a squad capable of putting in a really good performance.
“We are getting more and more confident with every game we play, but we know we have got to perform well to lift that Cup at the end.”
A Wembley appearance will cap a fairytale for half-back Liam Finn, who joined Tigers from Featherstone Rovers in the off-season.
Finn was out of Super League for a decade, following spells with Wakefield and Halifax early in his career and he said: “Nine months ago I was a Championship player and now I’m getting ready to play at Wembley.
“It is a special place to train, never mind play. I am trying to keep a lid on it, but it would be fantastic if we could win. It is massive, beyond explanation. If you are in the game you hope experiences like this will come along.
“I owe it to (coach) Daryl Powell. I don’t think I’d be playing Super League if it wasn’t for a coach that understands my game and I’ve worked with before.”
Winger Kirk Dixon joined Tigers when they were a lower division club and he said: “It is exciting. It has been a great year for me, playing in a good side with great players. It makes your job pretty easy. It is really pleasing to be part of a final and a great spectacle and a Leeds-Cas derby, it doesn’t get much bigger that that.”
Dixon added: “We’ve kept it low key, but we’ve cranked it up towards the back end of the week and the (final training session) was great. Everything seems to be clicking and we are all looking forward to it.”