AUSSIE FORWARD Brett Delaney is hoping to go up against one of his oldest mates in the game when Leeds Rhinos face Castleford Tigers in Saturday’s Tetley’s Challenge Cup final.
Former Leeds back-rower Weller Hauraki missed Tigers’ semi-final win over Widnes Vikings due to suspension, but is available for the showpiece event in three days’ time and Delaney would like to see his ex-teammate get the nod from coach Daryl Powell.
“Me and Weller go way back, 10 or 11 years,” Delaney said of the Kiwi back-rower, who was a member of the Rhinos team beaten by Wigan in the 2011 final.
“We were at Parramatta together when we were 17 or 18.
“It is funny how it has worked out, we are on the other side of the world, playing against each other in a Cup final, which is massive.”
But Delaney admitted it doesn’t take an old pal in the opposition ranks to make Wembley special.
Hauraki is one of just three members of Tigers’ likely Cup final squad with previous Wembley experience, but in contrast Leeds’ side is packed with it.
Of the 17 already named for the game by Rhinos boss Brian McDermott, only centre Joel Moon, hooker Paul Aiton and teenage substitute Liam Sutcliffe have yet to taste the national stadium’s unique atmosphere. Delaney, though, insisted the more times a team plays at Wembley – especially without getting their hands on the trophy – the greater is their desire to go back.
“I have played in three (Challenge Cup finals) and it is a great experience, the whole week building up to it,” said the 28-year-old ex-Gold Coast Titan.
“I will never forget my first one. Even though it was a loss, it was a memorable week. You try to soak it all in, rip in at training and then go out there and try and do a good job.”
That said, Delaney admits the experience is a lot less pleasant if you don’t come away with the trophy.
“I played in 2010, 2011 and 2012 – the first three years I was at the club we lost three finals,” he recalled.
“I don’t know if it was me, or what! My first three Cup finals were disappointing results-wise, but we’re there again and hopefully we can turn it around and get a win.”
Rhinos have lost six and drawn one of their last 14 league and cup games, after just one defeat and a draw in their opening 14. Tigers are in better recent form, but Delaney reckons that will count for nothing when the first whistle blows, at 3pm on Saturday.
“We know what it takes to be in a final,” he stated.
“Cas will be up for it and so will we. We will have a good week’s preparation and we aren’t bothered about what’s gone on over the last few months. It is about this week. We know what it takes and we will be trying to put our best foot forward to do that.”
Coach McDermott is planning to field the same players who beat Warrington Wolves in the semi-final, less than two weeks ago.
That came eight days after an under-strength team had been stunned at home by relegated Bradford Bulls.
Rhinos are in a similar situation this week, after a fringe side – lacking nine senior players – slumped to an embarrassing 40-36 loss at First Utility Super League’s bottom club London Broncos. Rhinos have not suffered back-to-back defeats all season and Delaney said the ability to respond well to a loss is one of their great strengths.
“We have got the thoroughbred players to do that,” he said.
“We want to win this game, but so do Cas. It will be a big game, so we need a big week’s prep and hopefully we will get the rewards on Saturday.”
Asked about the injuries which persuaded him to rest Delaney for last weekend’s game, McDermott responded “you name it, he’s carrying it”.
But the player himself insisted he will be firing on all cylinders come kick-off time in the big game.
“I tend to throw my body around a bit, stupidly sometimes,” he admitted. “I am all right, I have got a bit of an on-going knee thing, that I’ll get sorted at the end of the year.
“I have had that the last couple of years. Other than that, my body’s sweet. I have had a few operations since I’ve been at the club, but I am feeling fresh and ready to go on Saturday.”