Leeds Rhinos: Desire to play is stronger than pre-cup-final injury concerns – McGuire

Stevie Ward

Stevie Ward

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THE GAME before a Cup final is a nervous time.

I am lucky enough to have been in this situation a few times, but it is a bit different this year.

That’s because our game at Hull tonight is a big one in its own right.

We have built a four-point lead at the top of the table, but we’ve worked hard for that and we don’t want to throw it away.

Picking the team is a difficult decision for Brian Mac and he has got to strike a balance.

Obviously he has got planning for the Cup final in the back of his mind, but he wants to win tonight as well.

Players don’t get a choice, but if they did, everybody in the squad would put their hand up to play tonight.

The coaching staff will have been thinking about how to handle this game for a few weeks, but as players we are all really keen just to go for it with the strongest team possible.

At this stage I don’t know what the side is, but Mac has named a strong 19 with only the centres – Kallum and Moony – being rested.

Hull are a dangerous team, they are in form after beating Saints last week and they won’t want to lose four times to us in a year.

They aren’t going to be holding back tonight, especially with a two-week break before their next game and we won’t be either.

At this time of year people are carrying knocks and bumps and bruises and it makes sense not to risk anybody who isn’t fully fit.

Brett Delaney could probably have played, from what he has been saying, but I think it’s the right decision to give him another week and hopefully he will be fit and firing when we get to Wembley.

The doctors and physios will have been speaking to Mac about that, but from a player’s point of view, we are paid to play week-in and week-out.

That’s what we do and I can’t ever remember anybody asking for a week off.

Obviously there is a chance somebody could get injured the game before Wembley.

It has happened in the past, for example 10 years ago when Keith Senior hurt his ankle against Bradford.

I would be lying if I said that won’t be in the back of anybody’s mind tonight.

It is natural that you are going to be concerned about something like that happening, but it is no good wrapping anybody in cotton wool.

When you cross the white line and the whistle blows, you forget about it because you’ve got so many other things to concentrate on.

If anybody does get hurt this evening, it will be unfortunate, but it is part of the game.

You can’t worry about injuries or you’d never get on to the field.

Tonight’s game is really important and it’s a good one to have the week before Wembley.

We want to go into the final with confidence and playing well, and we will have to do that to get the points against Hull.

We have learned a few lessons from last year. In 2014 we put a lot of emphasis on the Challenge Cup and we fell away in the league around the semi-final and final.

We were in a good position for a while, but we didn’t maintain that and we are all determined not to let that happen this season.

We have got a better squad now, in my opinion, and I think we’re in a better position to fight on all fronts.

We are still in with a shout for the Challenge Cup, league leaders’ shield and the Grand Final, which means we have to be on top of our game every week.

We’ve lost a couple of people recently – Jonesy and Paul Aiton – and that is unfortunate, but Stevie Ward made a great return last week and hopefully Mitch Achurch will be fit for tonight, so the squad is looking pretty healthy. It will be a relief when the final whistle blows tonight, especially if we are all fit and healthy.

We’ve had three games between the semi-final and final this year and it will be good to be able to fully focus on Wembley, at last.

The time building up to a cup final is a really enjoyable time and it’s different to any other week.

Normally when you come in on a Monday morning you’re still a bit sore and weary from the weekend’s game, but everybody will be buzzing.

The final comes down to 80 minutes on the Saturday afternoon, but it’s important to enjoy the whole experience, because you don’t know if it will happen again.

Ash Handley, scoring the opening try in Leeds' cup win over Doncaster. PIC: Bruce Rollinson

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