WEMBLEY IS a dream come true for Castleford Tigers, according to their ex-Leeds Rhinos back-rower Weller Hauraki.
The New Zealander admitted he thought his Challenge Cup final chances may be over when he was released from his Leeds contract to join then-struggling Cas ahead of the 2013 campaign.
But the transformation coach Daryl Powell has brought about at Castleford has given Hauraki a second opportunity and a chance to go one better than he did with Leeds two years ago.
“I played against Warrington in 2012 and I was in the squad against Wigan (in 2011), but I didn’t play in that one,” Hauraki recalled of his Cup exploits in blue and amber.
“I am over the moon to be going back and I’m really looking forward to the opportunity again to play at Wembley.
“These chances don’t come around very often and all of the boys are looking forward to the game.
“All the Cas boys were talking at the start of the year and they were saying they only dream of things like this.
“Now the dream has come true for some of these boys and we’re just looking forward to the final.”
Facing his former side in Saturday’s Tetley’s-sponsored showpiece makes it even more special, Hauraki admitted.
“I said to the boys after the Wigan game (in the quarter-finals), hopefully we can play Leeds if we get that far,” he said.
“I wouldn’t want to play any other team than Leeds in the final.”
The only other Tigers players with Challenge Cup final experience are props Andy Lynch – a member of the Hull team beaten by Wigan Warriors last year – and Garreth Carvell, who is preparing for his sixth final. The Leeds-born front-rower played for Hull in their win over Leeds nine years ago and collected a loser’s medal against St Helens in 2008.
He was also a winner three times with Warrington Wolves, against Leeds Rhinos in 2010 and 2012 and Huddersfield Giants in 2009.
Carvell’s four wins in finals are twice as many as the entire Leeds team, but Tigers will have 14 players on Saturday who have never experienced such a big occasion.
The Kiwi admitted that means he – and the other two past finalists – will have to take a leadership role ahead of the game.
“After you have played there you know the hype and what goes on around the weekend,” reflected Hauraki, who will join Salford Red Devils next year.
“You know what to do and what not to do on the day and it helps you. Hopefully we can pass that on to the other boys and calm them down.”
Tigers finished third-from-bottom in First Utility Super League last year, but Hauraki insisted he believed from the start they were good enough to go all the way in the knockout competition.
“The way we have gone this year I always thought we could get there,” he said. “I have just been concentrating on each game, but as we started going further and further in the Challenge Cup I started thinking to myself we have got a chance to get into the final.
“Now it has come to it and we’re really happy. I think we deserve to be there and Leeds will say the same. We are chuffed to be there, but we want to finish the job if we can.
“You want to be involved in finals, that’s what you play the game for. It will be a massive challenge, but we are looking forward to it.”