WEMBLEY-BOUND TEAM boss Brian McDermott says the Tetley’s Challenge Cup final has been on Leeds Rhinos’ radar since they beat one of their main rivals four months ago.
Leeds will walk out at the national stadium for the fourth time in five seasons tomorrow – and the third time in the four years of McDermott’s reign.
Having not lifted the trophy since 1999 – and after six successive defeats in finals – the Challenge Cup is always a goal for Leeds, but McDermott said a fifth-round win over St Helens was when they started thinking seriously about the final.
“I’m feeling good, excited,” McDermott said of tomorrow’s showdown with Castleford Tigers. “You don’t get too many chances to do this. People will count the number of finals the players have been in and maybe I’ve been in, but you just don’t know when you’re going to get to your next one.
“The moment we beat Saints I thought that’s a big win and we don’t give that momentum up easily. As soon as we won that game and certainly after the quarter-final win over Leigh we started to talk about a few things.”
But McDermott stressed he never took the final for granted.
“We had the life scared out of us by Leigh in the quarter-finals and then beat a very good Warrington team in that immense semi-final win two weeks ago,” he said. “We feel very privileged to be here. We have no divine right to be in the final, you have got to work your way there. The determination and desire is there to win, but at the same time, we have got that honoured feeling at the moment.”
While Tigers are the newbies, looking ahead to their first final this century, tomorrow will be Leeds’ eighth of the summer era and they have lost six of the previous seven. It could be the final chance for some of Rhinos’ golden generation, who have achieved everything else possible in the domestic game.
Asked if he feels those players, the likes of Kevin Sinfield, Rob Burrow, Danny McGuire, Ryan Bailey and Jamie Jones-Buchanan, “deserve” the missing piece of the jigsaw, McDermott said: “That’s a tough question.
“You don’t deserve or have a right to anything. The more money you spend and the better your squad is or the bigger the club is, everybody thinks you should be there.
“But it absolutely isn’t like that. There’s a harsh fact, when someone comes and whacks you with his shoulder and there’s 110kgs going into your ribs, all game-plans and strategies and everybody’s desires go out of the window.
“You have got to play well on game-day. I’ve heard the players asked the same thing and they all say they look back on their careers, the vast majority of seasons, with pleasure and pride and they feel honoured by the career they’ve had.
“Some of them have won six Grand Finals. Of course a Challenge Cup winner’s medal would be even better, but there’s a chance you could want it too much, get over-anxious about it and focus so much on the Challenge Cup final at the expense of everything else.
“We have to bring them down from that. We tell them not just to think of the game and the possible win, enjoy everything it offers you.
“It’s not just about winning, there’s more to consider after this. We’ve got the Grand Final to consider as well, so we’ve got to put these things into perspective.”
Having played in Challenge Cup finals during his time at Bradford Bulls, McDermott knows what his players are in for tomorrow afternoon and reckons it’s a step up from the week-in, week-out punishment endured in Super League. But the boss – who admitted to not sleeping the night after Rhinos’ league loss at London last week – admits coaches are under different pressures.
“As a player you have pretty much got to take care of your own game and that’s a big thing,” he said. “That physical battle you’ve got, you can’t really describe it. If you could pick someone up and put them on the field, especially in a Challenge Cup final and let them – just for 10 seconds – experience some of the fatigue and the pain and the emotion and the nerves and anxiety, the vast majority of the general public would have a coronary heart attack.
“As a coach you don’t do anything like that, there’s nothing physical involved, but at the same time, emotionally it does beat you up.
“It is a different pressure as a coach, but that’s your job, to deal with that pressure, manage it and still make decisions. At times you do feel like you’re getting consumed with the job and you think ‘where’s the answer here?’, but that’s not an inconvenience – it’s the job. When you sign on it’s one of the things you have to agree to: deal with all that, answer all these questions, get through everything – and when everyone wins, it’s (because of) everyone else!”
Rhinos travelled to London yesterday and were training at Wembley this afternoon. To a large extent, that will end McDermott’s direct influence on tomorrow’s match.
“You still have a bearing, of course, until 4.45 on Saturday afternoon,” he said.
“But there comes a point in the week when you can’t do much more. You shouldn’t meddle after that, you have to allow them to run with it. We have put a few things in place and had a few conversations and once all that’s in place you can maybe take a breather.
“You continue to do the media and answer questions and deal with pressures, but you do it with a bit more comfort, knowing your own backyard is taken care of.”