NO DOUBT, tomorrow is the biggest game of our season so far and everyone in our camp is in good spirits ahead of it.
For the first time in a while we’ve had more or less everybody on the training field this week and there’s going to be a few selection headaches for Brian Mac, which is what you want ahead of a game like this.
We’ve had our fair share of injuries this year, but it’s a physical sport and that’s part and parcel of it.
All teams go through it, but the positive thing is we are getting people back for the business end, when the really big games are.
This is an exciting time in the season and it’s what we all play the sport for, to be involved in semi-finals and hopefully finals.
The boys are buzzing and we are quietly confident. We know we are in for a tough game, but if we play as well as we can we are a tough team to beat.
Obviously we didn’t play as well as we’d have liked last week and that result and performance hurt us as much as it did the fans, but we have put it to bed now.
We’ll be a different team tomorrow. We’ve had a good week’s preparation, we are excited and we are ready to play.
Over the last few years we’ve had some good battles with Warrington and they have definitely been the best team in the competition since Tony Smith took over as coach.
They’ve won it three times in five years and that’s a fantastic record.
They know how to prepare and how to play well in this competition, a bit like we do in the play-offs.
They are also going into it in good form. They had a couple of slip-ups, but they are coming off the back of a fantastic result at Catalan last week.
It’s never an easy place to get a result from, especially in summer and you wouldn’t choose to go there the week before the semi-final, but they will be full of confidence.
It’s the first time in a while we have been out of Yorkshire for a semi-final. St Helens is a good stadium, but it’s a lot nearer Warrington than it is Leeds and we might be out-numbered on the terraces.
The Leeds fan won’t be out-sung though and as a team, we’d all like to say if you are going to the game, please get behind us like you always do.
There will be times when we are under pressure and we’re finding it tough and in moments like that the supporters really do make a difference.
There’s a huge prize on offer and it’s a group effort. As a squad we haven’t spoken about Wembley, but individually you do think about it.
You go through things that might happen and then you have to pull yourself back and focus on the here and now, rather than looking too far ahead.
We all know the Challenge Cup hasn’t been the best competition for us.
We have got to plenty of finals, but we’ve never been able to perform on the day.
That is something we are all desperate to put right, for the fans and for ourselves.
But we have got a huge hurdle to overcome first before we can start thinking about that.
IT’S GOOD that there’s going to be a different team in the Challenge Cup final this year.
I like the look of the Castleford versus Widnes semi-final, which I think is going to be a great game.
Castleford are the form team. They are undefeated in six games and they’ve beaten Widnes twice in the league this year, but they will be weakened by the loss of some of their key players. Grant Millington has had a big year for them and he’s one of the players who holds them together in the middle, so his knee injury is a shame for him and a blow for them.
It’s disappointing that Weller Hauraki and Justin Carney are suspended, but sometimes things like that bring the best out of everybody else in the squad.
One of the things I like about Castleford this year is the work ethic and the spirit they’ve got in the squad. They have got great depth and when somebody drops out, someone else comes in and does just as good a job.
Widnes are a good team as well though and all credit to Denis Betts for the fantastic job he’s done there.
Sometimes you have to give a coach, especially an English coach, time to build a team. Widnes have done that with Denis and they are getting their reward now.
They’ve got a good squad and some really talented players, but the key man is Kevin Brown and his head-to-head with Marc Sneyd should be a classic.
They are the two form halves in Super League, no doubt about that. Sneyd has been the surprise package.
I always thought he was a good player at Salford, but he never seemed to get a chance. It looked like he had something about him and since he moved to Cas he has shown that.
Kevin Brown is a great player and he has proved it over a number of years with Wigan, Huddersfield and now Widnes.
I’ve played against him a lot and he is one of those players you have to keep in check or he can rip you apart. He has played in big games in the past and that could be crucial, especially against a Cas side missing some influential players.
But I am tipping Castleford to win. I am a bit biased, but I would love to see an all-West Yorkshire final between us and the Tigers.
I know fans in Cheshire will be saying the same about Warrington versus Widnes, but I think it would be a big crowd-puller, a fantastic occasion and a great game.
AT THE time of writing we are still waiting to learn the extent of the injury Ben Jones-Bishop suffered against Bradford last week.
He’s had scans and there’s damage to his ankle and knee so it doesn’t sound good.
It is a real shame for Bish, who has had more than his fair share of problems with injuries and illness.
It is disappointing when anyone suffers a potentially long-term injury, but Bish is leaving at the end of the year and it would have been great for him to finish with us on a high. I will be sad to see him go. He is a really talented player, a good friend and a good team-mate as well.
He has had a difficult year, because everyone wants to play week-in and week-out and he hasn’t been doing that.
He has stayed positive and when he has got a chance he has taken it with both hands, so nobody could have asked for any more from him.
We will have to wait and see what the specialist says, but everyone in the squad is hoping the damage turns out to be not as bad as first feared and Bish gets chance to come back and play a few more games for us before the end of the season.