Classy Aussie three-quarter Joel Moon is looking forward to the biggest game of his life. Peter Smith reports.
THIS week – and particularly Saturday’s Tetley’s Challenge Cup final – is why Joel Moon joined Leeds Rhinos.
The Aussie is in his second season at Leeds following a move from Salford Red Devils as the long-term successor to club legend Keith Senior.
After failing to settle during his year at Salford, when he scored 11 tries in 19 appearances, the former Brisbane Broncos and New Zealand Warriors centre seemed set for a return Down Under in the winter of 2012.
But Leeds had been looking for a year and a half for a quality three-quarter to fill the boots of Senior, whose career was ended by a serious knee injury in May 2011.
After such a long spell of make-do and mend, Moon and Rhinos were the perfect fit.
He has been a regular in the side since his debut at the start of last season and has formed a dynamic left-side partnership with winger Ryan Hall – and from the player’s perspective, he is finally about to make an appearance on one of world sport’s biggest stages.
“You come to Leeds and you know how much stuff they have won and what they are about,” Moon said.
“I have never been in a final like this, it is just exciting. I am going to soak up the week and I am looking forward to it.
“I was in finals when I was young, but nothing this big. When the Warriors made the Grand Final I played in the semi, but I broke my leg so this is pretty big for me and all new.
“It will be the biggest game I have played in.”
Of the 17 players named in Rhinos’ Cup final team, only Moon, Paul Aiton and teenager Liam Sutcliffe have not played at the national stadium.
Wembley won’t come as a shock to Moon though. He said: “I went to watch the NFL there last year and it was pretty amazing.
“To run out there and play on the field, well I am looking forward to it.
“When I went I wasn’t thinking about if I played there, but I can imagine now and look back and think jeez, it is going to be a big one.”
As one of the players without Challenge Cup final experience, Moon will be looking to his teammates for guidance.
“Definitely,” he said. “There is heaps of experience. I am pretty relaxed so I will just do what I do every week.
“There are big players in the team who I can ask advice from and just follow the stuff they do, but I will prepare the same as I normally do and do the same stuff.
“I will just try and not get caught up in the game too early.”
Moon admitted he doesn’t watch much rugby league, but even so he is keenly aware of just what the Challenge Cup means to everybody involved in the British game.
“Being over here you can see how big the Challenge Cup final is,” he said. “Back home you don’t realise how big it is until you get over here and see it and watch it.
“All the boys at Leeds tell me how big it is and how good it would be to play down there. I am just starting to feel it now. It is a good feeling.”
Notoriously, Leeds have lost the last six finals they have appeared in – an unwanted competition record.
“Some people say ‘are you going to turn up this year?’ and stuff like that but I don’t really listen to that,” Moon said.
“I don’t really know the record. I am just concerned about our team and how I go.
“Nobody in the team talks about it, that is just outside. People are just trying to say stuff and make more out of it, but we are all excited and training well and looking forward to it.”
Despite his lack of experience in the most important games, Moon is confident he will be able to handle the occasion – though he admits he will be happy when kick-off time finally rolls around.
“I don’t really get nervous,” he said. “I get more anxious, I just want to get out there and play.
“The day of the game I get anxious sitting around.
“Once you are out there and the ball starts going it is just another game.
“There are a few who do get nervous, I can see them in the sheds tapping their legs and a few of the boys spewing. I don’t envy them.”
Moon is expecting Saturday’s tie to be just as tight as the two Super League encounters with Tigers this year.
He said: “The last time we played them was a really tough game and I don’t see this being any different so I am looking forward to the challenge.
“The Warrington game (in the semi-final) was very tough, one of the toughest I have played.
“I guess this will be another step up so I am looking forward to it.”
The forward battle on Saturday will be crucial, but the match-up in the backs is mouth-watering, with Leeds’s back-five of Zak Hardaker, Tom Briscoe, Kallum Watkins, Moon and Hall likely to be up against Luke Dorn, Kirk Dixon (or James Clare), Michael Shenton, Jake Webster and Justin Carney.
Moon described Carney as “a freak” and said: “I normally play on the other side, thank God.
“He is strong, he is one of the players you try not to run at or when he runs at you you have to go 100 per cent.
“He is a good player and he will be tough to stop. Michael Shenton is a tough player and I think I will be up against Jake Webster.
“I know him from back home. He is a strong player. It will be tough.
“Me and Hally will have our work cut out.
“Their front-rowers are good and we have got some good players too. It will be a tough game.”
A Wembley final is a huge occasion for any player, but it’s also a day for family members to savour and Moon’s relatives are no different.
“Dad was coming over and now Mum has jumped on board as well,” he said.
“My mother-in-law is over and my sister-in-law so it is pretty good.
“It will be a big thing for me and there’s a bit of pressure.
“Mum said ‘make it worthwhile’, so I will have her in the back of my mind.
“They will be excited too. More than me probably.”