WELL, THAT went pretty well.
A week ago we were all looking forward to Wembley, probably with a mixture of excitement and a bit of apprehension.
Now it’s all over, I think we can reflect on a perfect weekend. When you have worked so hard and so long for something it is extra-special when you finally achieve it and that’s how I feel about our Challenge Cup win.
As a squad we have been pretty stable for a number of years now and we all realised before the game we were running out of chances to get our hands on the Challenge Cup.
I am sure some of the younger lads in the team will get plenty more opportunities, but we wanted to do it as a group and it would have left a gap if we hadn’t done that.
That meant we were determined to win the thing this year and, without being big-headed, I think it would have taken a 10/10 performance by Castleford to beat us.
In fact, any team would have struggled to get a win against us in the mood we were in on Saturday. There were some nerves a couple of days before the final, but we were in a confident frame of mind going into the game itself and lining up to walk out I knew we would win, everybody was so relaxed, but so focused.
The difference this season to past finals was the fact we got our performance right on the day. Those disappointments are gone now, but if anything, they gave us a bit more motivation.
Playing at Wembley is great, but it is probably the worst place to lose and we didn’t want that feeling again.
Looking back, I am really proud of our performance. It was a bit unLeeds-like, but we stuck to the game plan and that is tough to do, especially in a final.
It is a sapping place to play and a combination of adrenaline and tiredness makes it difficult to concentrate, so to stick to what we planned to do for the full 80 minutes was really pleasing.
I said it was a perfect weekend, but I do have one regret and that is missing the bus journey from Wembley to our hotel after the game.
All the other celebrations are public, at least to some extent, but on the coach it’s just players and staff and it is one of the most memorable times after any trophy win.
Even though my ribs were killing me, missing that hurt even more.
When I got injured the medics wanted me to come off, but there were only 10 minutes to go and the game wasn’t quite won, so there was no way I was leaving the action. Then once the drop goal had gone over I wanted to enjoy the last five minutes, knowing we were about to win the Cup.
After the game a bit of common sense prevailed and the doc said I needed to go for a check-up, so it was into the ambulance, on with the blue flashing lights and through the traffic to hospital.
Six days on, I am still feeling sore, but there’s no permanent damage and I am hoping to play tonight. If not, I won’t be out for long.
As I said in an interview in the YEP earlier in the week, there’s a lot of players running around in Super League with rib injuries.
It’s an occupational hazard and one of those things you just have to get on with.
Everybody knows about it so I might as well wear a big bull’s eye on my chest, but I’ll just man up and get through it as best I can.
It’s painful, but definitely worth it and nothing like as agonising as losing last week’s game would have been.
I THINK when the drop goal went over it was obvious how much it meant to me.
I don’t think I’ve celebrated a try like that, I just lost it for a few seconds and I’ve had a bit of stick for the way I was jumping and dancing around.
It was probably relief more than anything else. I think we were in control of the game for most of the time, but it was 16-10 for quite a while and if Cas had scored then, it might have been a different story, so we weren’t able to enjoy it until we got three scores ahead and we knew they didn’t have time to pull it back.
I don’t get many drop goals, but that was the score that ensured we were going to win the game and it is up there among the best moments of my career.
A few people have asked me about the man of the match and being runner-up to Hally. Apparently he got a couple more votes than me, but honestly I am really pleased for him and he deserved it.
The two tries he scored, nobody else in the world would have got and they were the difference between the teams in the end. He is a freak, a prop-forward in a winger’s jersey. He might be completely crackers, but he’s a great bloke and a real asset to the team and it’s scary how many tries he could get before he retires.
One of the good things about our trophy wins is that the man of the match awards have been shared around.
It is a team game and everyone in the side will tell you it’s the result that counts, not individual accolades.
It is nice to have got a few votes and to have been in the mix, but the most pleasing thing for me on a personal level is being able to feel I contributed to the victory.
I can’t describe the celebrations in the changing rooms after the game, because I wasn’t there, but the homecoming on Monday is something I will remember for a long, long time.
When I arrived at Headingley people were queueing down the street to get into the ground and it felt a bit like a match day.
That’s probably when it hit home to me just how much the Challenge Cup means to everyone connected with the club, not just the players.
Fifteen years is a long time to wait and I know the supporters have suffered just as much as we have through all those defeats and disappointments, so to finally bring the Cup back to Headingley was extra special and one of the best moments of my career.
IT’S great to have been a part of history and to have won every available honour, especially at such a great club and with such a fantastic bunch of lads.
It’s something I will think about when I’m a bit older, sitting in my dressing gown and slippers, smoking a pipe.
That’s probably when I’ll be able to reflect on what we’ve achieved as a group, but at the moment it’s all about going on and writing more history. We are still in the hunt for top spot in the table and the Grand Final is a definite target. The double is one thing we haven’t achieved and it is very much on our radar.
Playing Saints tonight is a real test. They’ve had a couple of weeks to prepare and they’ll be expecting us to have a hangover from Wembley, but we know it’s a massive game. We celebrated for a couple of days, but we were back in training on Tuesday and everybody was focused on tonight. We’ve lost our last two league games, which is disappointing and tonight is a must-win for us.
What happened last weekend will mean nothing when the first whistle blows, so we’ve got to roll our sleeves up and move on.