OFFICIAL MAN of the match Jamie Peacock felt a strong start was crucial in Leeds Rhinos’ Tetley’s Challenge Cup semi-final conquering of Warrington Wolves.
Rhinos led 14-0 at the break and never allowed Warrington to get within touching distance in the second half.
The 24-16 triumph sent Rhinos to Wembley for the fourth time in five seasons and Peacock said: “It was a good performance.
“We laid a very good platform the way everybody played in the first 20 minutes.
“We knew Warrington are traditionally good starters and we thought if we could get out in front we’d give ourselves every chance of winning.
“In the Challenge Cup it’s important to try and get out in front early and we managed to do that by playing very well.”
Peacock paid tribute to the tactics devised by coach Brian McDermott.
He said: “Mac gave us a good game plan, like he did in the semi-final against Wigan two years ago.
“We’ve got to credit Mac for giving us the right game plan to face Warrington.
“All we had to do was execute it and we managed to do that.”
Warrington hit back strongly after half-time and Peacock added: “They changed some things.
“Tony (Smith) is a smart coach and they got us a couple of times, but we adjusted to that and we always managed to keep them at distance. It was good to win.”
Teenger Liam Sutcliffe is now on course for a Wembley appearance in only his second senior season.
He came on as a late substitute in the semi-final and said: “It was a tight game and I am only young.
“If I hadn’t got on I’d still have enjoyed the experience. It was great to be involved in a semi-final, especially a close game like that.”
Sutcliffe, who is still qualified for Rhinos’ under-19s, added: “It has always been a dream of mine to play in a Cup final at Wembley for Leeds and hopefully it will come true in a couple of weeks’ time.”
The semi-final was full-back Zak Hardaker’s 100th game for Rhinos and he said they “massively delivered,” after a series of below-par recent performances.
“They were full of confidence coming and some of their performances have been brilliant, but we knew if we stuck to our game plan we’d win the game.
“I thought it was always going to be tough and it went down to the wire,” Hardaker said.
Hardaker also felt Rhinos’ near-faultless effort in the opening 40 was the key to their victory.
“The game plan we put in place really came up for us and we really tired them out,” he said of Rhinos’ first-half performance.
“We were scoring points off the back of it and it proved it worked.
“We were unlucky not to go over for a couple more and we were full of confidence going into second half, but we knew Warrington would come out with nothing to lose.
“It was a semi-final and we knew they’d throw the ball about and that’s when they’re most dangerous.
“We wanted to score first in the second half, but they came out and scored a terrific try after great work from Joel Monaghan and they got on the front foot, gaining momentum.
“It was always going to be tough, but we replied which was important.
“It was hard in that second half but I always thought we had that game.”
Rhinos’ tries were all scored by backs, with wingers Ryan Hall (two) and Tom Briscoe both crossing and centre Joel Moon also touching down.
Hardaker made several vital tackles and was one of Leeds’ leading threats on attack, but insisted the work done by Rhinos’ forwards paved the way for the win.
The full-back’s kick return set up field position for Hall’s vital second try and he said: “The forwards do their work in the middle and it enables me and Hally and Tom Briscoe to do the kick returns, as they’ve tired them out and there’s gaps in the middle.
“The forwards do that really, really hard work and to get maximum benefit from that I try and kick return like that and get us up the field. I was able to do that and that’s brilliant.”
Castleford Tigers’ win over Widnes Vikings in yesterday’s second semi-final set up an all-Yorkshire showdown at Wembley in 12 days’ time.
Hardaker – who joined Leeds from Featherstone Rovers in 2011 – said: “I’m from Pontefract so there’s that Pont’ and Cas rivalry and I was a Fev fan as a kid.
“My next door neighbour is a Cas fan and he called a Leeds v Cas final about 12 weeks ago.
“I said ‘yeah, yeah, yeah’ – thinking nothing of it – but as it’s come closer and we’re both in the semis he’s been telling me ‘I told you.’ There was a bit of pressure there.
“Obviously Cas getting there is great for the town, they’ve got a great little club going and they’re playing really well. It’ll be a West Yorkshire final and I tell you what, there’ll be some big numbers of fans there.”
Warrington prop Chris Hill, meanwhile, suffered a facial wound after a tackle – allegedly by Hardaker – but insisted there was no intent from the Leeds man.
Hill said: “I got fingers in my eye, but you just get on with it. It was accidental.”
Meanwhile, stand-off Danny McGuire, who provided passes for two of Leeds’ four tries, felt Rhinos’ performance was a step-up from recent weeks.
“The first half was the best we’ve played in a while,” he said.
“We probably didn’t convert it into points, but Warrington deserve a bit of credit for their scrambling defence.
“It was a pretty perfect 40 minutes; we stuck to the game plan we’d practised.
“In the second half it went a little bit out of the window and we just had to scramble and work hard for each other and show a lot of guts and character.
“It was a great win and we’re just so pleased to be back in the final.”