Leeds Rhinos: Challenge Cup’s different now but has lost none of its magic – Ablett

Leeds Rhinos lift the Challenge Cup last year.

I LOVE the Challenge Cup; there is always a bit of an extra buzz at training when the Cup comes around and this week has been no different.

I am really fortunate to have played in five Challenge Cup finals and I’ve got a couple of winner’s medals.

I’ve had lots of different experiences in the Cup and as far as I am concerned, it definitely hasn’t lost its magic.

It’s different now to when I used to watch finals as a kid. Playing the final in August, just a couple of months before Old Trafford has made a difference and now the top Super League clubs only need to win three games to get to Wembley.

But once you have been there and experienced it, you want to go back.

People sometimes ask which I prefer, Wembley or the Grand Final.

It is impossible to compare the two. The build-ups are different, the weather’s different, they are played in different stadiums and at different times of the day.

The build-up to Wembley is special, because you get longer to enjoy it. The Grand Final is played the week after the semi, so it all happens very quickly and you maybe don’t get as much chance to soak it all in as you’d like.

It’s a bit more like a normal build-up than you get for Wembley.

The Cup final itself goes really fast and afterwards I usually struggle to remember much about the actual game.

It is always the days leading up to it that stick in the memory, things like the journey down to London, the hotel and the walk-about the day before the match.

I think it’s good that there’s been some Cup shocks this year.

It brings the magic back when you see part-time teams pushing full-time opposition all the way.

Oldham beating Hull KR was massive in rekindling the Cup spark.

The gap between full-time and part-time is massive, but Oldham showed that shocks can still happen.

Toulouse beating Leigh was similar. Results like that show the value of spirit and having a team that are together.

It is not always about having the most money, the best facility or even the best players.

Any outcome is possible in any game. It just takes a Super League team to be off their game, like Hull KR were, and they can get punished.

It wasn’t great for Hull KR and their players and fans. There were some angry words spoken afterwards and, realistically, it shouldn’t happen, but as long as you are not on the receiving end it is great for the sport and the competition.

Having said that, I am not tipping any shocks this weekend.

There’s three ties that are tough to call: us at Huddersfield tonight, Cas versus Salford tomorrow and St Helens against Hull on Sunday.

They could all go either way, but the games between Super League sides and lower-division opposition will probably go according to the form book.

I didn’t expect Oldham to beat Hull KR, but in that case the Super League side weren’t going so well.

Warrington (at Oldham), Wigan (at Dewsbury), Catalans (at Batley) and Wakefield (home to Toulouse) are all in good form and playing well and full of confidence.

Anything is possible and they will have to make sure they turn up fully prepared, but all four should win.

It is going to be tough for me to watch tonight’s game at Huddersfield.

I will be there; the past few weeks all the injured boys have tried to get to the games to support the lads.

We’ve won the Cup the last two years and we want to defend it. I hate watching, but it is something I am having to get used to. I’ve had two ankle injuries this year and this second is one I can’t rush.

I came back too early the last time and the game is so ferocious, fast and physical now you can’t afford to be under-cooked.

You have to look at the bigger picture and make sure you are 100 per cent when you come back. At the moment I am not sure when that will be.

I have got a bit of ligament and nerve damage and it might be a case of just waking up one morning and it feeling better, so I can start running.

At the minute I just have to bide my time, but it’s tough not being able to train with the lads and help them out on game day.

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