SKIPPER KEVIN Sinfield practiced drop goals on the Wembley pitch yesterday as Leeds Rhinos prepared for a Tetley’s Challenge Cup final they expect to go down to the wire.
Speaking after the traditional final training session on the hallowed turf, Rhinos coach Brian McDermott predicted a nerve-shredding contest against Castleford Tigers this afternoon.
Leeds won by eight points at Mend-a-Hose Jungle early in the season and last month’s encounter at Headingley Carnegie finished all-square.
“I think it will be a tight game,” McDermott said.
“We are bracing ourselves for a tough old fixture.”
The Leeds coach confirmed it is business as normal for hooker Paul Aiton, due to be among the substitutes today, despite his former club Cronulla Sharks’ involvement in a doping investigation in Australia.
Newspaper reports Down Under claim 14 former or current Cronulla players have agreed to accept a back-dated 12-month suspension, beginning yesterday and ending in November, but Aiton has turned it down.
But Leeds’ management say they have heard nothing official and McDermott said: “Paul’s good.
“That’s all they are, reports. At no stage has our club or the RFL had any contact. WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) haven’t contacted the player.
“Paul’s not even part of the investigation.
“It is just reports in a newspaper, which is the industry we live in. People say things which sometimes are not true.
“Paul’s just getting ready for a game and we’re getting ready for a game.” Rhinos will be unchanged from their semi-final win over Warrington Wolves, but Tigers have a major doubt over prop Craig Huby, who suffered a serious arm injury in their Cup last-four victory against Widnes Vikings. “I think he has got a chance,” McDermott said.
“He has dislocated his elbow, which to your average man in the street means a couple of months off.
“But they will strap it up and put some injections in it. He’s an important part of what they do, so it would not surprise me.”
Rhinos second-row Carl Ablett wants to see his former teammate Huby line-up for Cas this afternoon.
He said: “I hope he plays, because you never know how many chances you are going to get.
“I played with him for England academy and he’s a great player and a great bloke.
“I hope he gets himself right and he can take that pitch. We are near enough full-strength and so are they and that’s what you want.
“Hopefully it’ll be a great game to watch.”
Of Leeds’ build-up, Ablett said: “Everything’s good. Everyone’s in good spirits. It is a pretty nice stadium to play at, pretty special.
“We can’t complain about preparations now, it is just as case of turning up (today) and doing our jobs. Preparations can go as good as you want and if you turn up and you don’t perform or you don’t do your job right, it will be no good.
“It is about peaking (this afternoon). Preparation can go as good as it wants, but it’s about handling the occasion and coming out and performing.”
Centre Kallum Watkins also said things have gone well so far.
“Everyone is calm and relaxed,” he reported. “We know come game time we have to come up with a great performance to win against a great side.
“Cas will give their best and we need to match that with the experience we’ve got. It could certainly be close if both teams are on form and playing to full potential, as in terms of form in the league it is quite equal.”
Tigers boss Daryl Powell said Huby will have a fitness test today.
“He has trained okay,” Powell said. “I am hopeful he will be fit.
“It is down to me and him. He has got to be confident he can deliver his best performance and if he is, then we’ll go with that.”
Powell said Tigers’ preparations have gone exactly to plan and he observed: “We have trained well all week and we are ready to go.
“The boys are fine. We’ve been pretty calm all week and training performances have been good.
“I look in the boys’ eyes and I see a group of people who are ready to take the challenge on.”