THE WAY Leeds Rhinos coped with the pressure of being favourites was key to their Ladbrokes Challenge Cup final triumph, according to coach Brian McDermott.
Rhinos were 9-2 odds-on favourites to retain the trophy and did so with a clinical 50-0 demolition of Hull KR, who had been 9-2 outsiders.
Leeds fully justified the bookies’ opinion with a record-breaking performance and McDermott reflected: “We faced a different challenge from Hull KR. They were the underdogs and I thought we were outstanding in terms of handling the pressure of being favourites.
“We handled that really, really well.”
McDermott said a meeting last Monday rammed home the message Rhinos would have to be on their game.
“We pretty much fired one across everybody’s bow,” he said. “If anybody thought they could relax and thought ‘it’s only Hull KR, we’ll get the job done’ we probably would have lost.
“That’s where I’ve got to pay credit to the players. They had healthy respect for Hull KR; to be given that favourites tag – it was so one-sided in the build up – and yet to still go out and do that says a lot about the players’ mentality.”
McDermott felt his team could have been better before the break, but was delighted with their defensive effort.
“In terms of the overall performance, I’m probably critical of our team in the first half,” he said. “I thought we played a bit too conservative, but defensively we absolutely nailed everything Hull KR tried to do.
“The three blokes who started in the back-row were Carl Ablett, Stevie Ward and Brett Delaney.
“The work you have got to chew through to make somebody look less potent than Hull KR clearly are was down to those three blokes, when they were trying to come away from their tryline.
“Every time they tried something, invariably those three blokes – as well as everybody else – were in the mix making some really tough tackles.”
McDermott described his side’s effort as a “great defensive display”.
He said: “If you were to pin me down to single out one thing, defence got us that game for sure.
“When the platform’s laid, we can score some points. Hull KR became tired and I don’t think they were 50 points [worse].
“They are a better team than that and in the first half it was a contest. We tried to score more points, but they wouldn’t let us. But I think the journey we’ve been on in recent weeks compared to the one they’ve been on in recent weeks probably showed. They’ve played some Championship teams in the Qualifiers and we’ve been involved in some very high intensity games.”