THE 17 players who face Hull KR tomorrow will be Leeds Rhinos’ best Challenge Cup final team, chief executive Gary Hetherington claims.
It will be Rhinos’ 25th Cup final and their fifth in six years and Hetherington insisted, despite three key injuries, they are in outstanding shape.
Stand-off Liam Sutcliffe (knee), hooker Paul Aiton (broken arm) and back-rower Jamie Jones-Buchanan (quad) have all been ruled out for the rest of the year, but Hetherington said: “The 17 who play will be the best team we’ve had in a Cup final. There will be players in their first final and we don’t have players like Ryan Bailey and Ian Kirke, who played in so many finals and big games, but there is a real excitement among the squad and a real confidence.
“There is also a real steely determination. We had that last year [when Rhinos beat Castleford Tigers at Wembley] and we have got it again.”
Rhinos are hot favourites to beat Hull KR tomorrow, but Hetherington said nobody in the camp believes all they have to do to claim the trophy is turn up on time.
“The players and coaching staff aren’t taking any notice of what the pundits are saying,” he stressed. “That doesn’t matter, it’s who performs on the day that counts.”
Rhinos are four points clear at the top of the First Utility Super-8s table and already guaranteed a place in the play-offs – when a win would see them return to the Grand Final for the first time since 2012.
“We are taking nothing for granted, but we could be at the start of something unique,” Hetherington added. “We have said all year we are really focused on winning the league leaders and we will pick up on that on Monday, irrespective of Saturday’s result.
“We will be focusing on St Helens on Friday and then we want to finish the season by lifting the Grand Final trophy, for so many reasons.”
Rhinos beat Hull KR twice in the regular season and are on a six-match winning run, but Hetherington warned that will count for nothing tomorrow.
“In many ways we could not be in a better position, but every game is closer to a defeat,” he cautioned. “Hull KR are a good team, with outstanding players. They have beaten Wigan, Catalans and Warrington and they’ve earned the right to have a chance of lifting the Challenge Cup.”