LEEDS RHINOS’ golden generation “deserve” to win a Challenge Cup final, club chief executive Gary Hetherington claims.
But he has dismissed suggestions the Wembley showdown with Castleford Tigers in nine days’ time in “now or never” for a team who have won every other available honour.
A Challenge Cup victory this year would come a decade after Rhinos won the Super League Grand Final for the first time to begin the most successful era in the club’s history.
Rhinos have won six titles, three World Club Challenges and finished top of Super League twice, but no member of the current squad has lifted the Challenge Cup in Leeds’ colours.
Leeds have lost six finals since their last Challenge Cup victory in 1999 and Hetherington said: “Getting to the final this year is hugely significant and important.
“People say it is now or never, but Leeds Rhinos will certainly win the Challenge Cup in the future, no question about that.
“It is not now or never, but the fact we have lost our past six finals doesn’t give us any more chance of winning this one. It doesn’t make us a better side or Cas a lesser side. It is another final and we’ve got an even-money chance of winning it. Finals are about winning and there’s a big difference between winning and not. We have got a group of players who have got a real collection of medals, but a Cup winner’s medal is the one that has eluded them.
“They deserve it for what they have achieved over the last decade and for how they will be remembered.” Hetherington added: “Another reason we want to win the trophy is for the fans. There has been a lot of pain for the players when they have lost in a final and that is shared equally by the fans.
“We want it to be a day when the players and fans can put all that disappointment behind them and celebrate.”
The man the Leeds chief credits with setting Rhinos on the path to glory stands between them and the last-remaining trophy.
“In many ways it all started with (current Tigers coach) Daryl Powell and his appointment in April, 2001,” Hetherington reflected.
“He coached the team to top spot in the table for periods and a Cup final and introduced many of this group to the first team, as young players.
“He sowed the seeds for what was to follow and it is ironic he stands between us and a Challenge Cup final victory next week.”
Hetherington, who is from Castleford and supported the club as a youngster, described Tigers as the “most dangerous” team Leeds could face in the final.
“They are in such a rich vein of form,” Hetherington said.
“Any team that plays as well as they are doing is going to be dangerous. There’s a lot of euphoria about the place, it is being swept along on a tide of excitement – and I know because I live in the area.”
Tigers are fourth in First Utility Super League, trailing Rhinos only on points difference.
“Ourselves and Cas still have a chance of doing the treble: the league leaders’, Grand Final and Challenge Cup,” he added.
“It is going to be an exciting finale to the season.”