Leeds coach Brian McDermott has broken with tradition by announcing his Challenge Cup final team at the start of Wembley week.
McDermott, who is able to select from a fully-fit squad, told his players the line-up for Saturday’s clash with Castleford on Monday morning and announced it a press conference at The Tetley in Leeds city centre.
The unveiling - on a top-table sitting alongside Castleford coach Daryl Powell - took reporters by surprise, with coaches frequently keeping their cards close to their chests in an effort to gain an advantage over their opponents.
But McDermott insisted his bold statement did not amount to a show of confidence.
“It’s a sign that everybody is fit,” he said. “If you were to ask Daryl what our team’s going to be, he’d say it and I think everybody else in this room knows what it was going to be. There’s no smoke and mirrors.”
The Rhinos team will be the one that beat Warrington 24-16 in the semi-finals nine days ago, with centre Joel Moon, utility player Liam Sutcliffe and hooker Paul Aiton set to make their first Cup final appearances.
McDermott said before Sunday’s Super League game at London Broncos that he had only the make-up of his bench to finalise and on Monday he was quick to dismiss the effects of their shock 40-36 defeat by the relegated Broncos.
“This week was always going to look the same,” said McDermott, who rested nine players for the trip to the capital. “Whether or not we’d have beaten London, we would have put that to bed pretty early.
“It was a funny old game. We were dominant for long periods and just fell apart for the final 15 minutes but I’m not really interested in the whys and wherefores of that.”
Powell is waiting on the fitness of prop forward Craig Huby, who dislocated an elbow in the Tigers’ 28-6 semi-final win over Widnes, and was not, in any case, about to follow McDermott’s example by showing his hand so early in the week.
“Everybody does things their own way, don’t they?” Powell said. “It’s not something I would have done. It’s each to their own.
“I’m not that interested to be honest, it’s about how us and how we go about our business. We know Leeds are a top-quality side and whoever they put out there, we just got to turn up and play well.”
Former Warrington prop Garreth Carvell, who missed last Friday’s Super League match against his old club with a shoulder problem, has been cleared to play at Wembley, leaving fellow forward Grant Millington as the Tigers’ only definite absentee with a knee injury that is worse than initially feared.
Huby, who has been in the form of his life for his hometown club this year, looked certain to be ruled out when he dislocated his elbow eight days ago but now appears to have a genuine chance of facing the Rhinos.
“Rugby league players are tough people,” Powell said. “If he’s not available we’ve got plenty of people who can take that slot.
“But he’s obviously a pretty important player for us so I’ll give him as long as he needs. We’ll make that decision later on in the week.”
Powell made it clear that Australian winger Justin Carney would return to the side after completing a two-match ban but has not ruled out his deputy James Clare, who scored a try in Castleford’s quarter-final win at Wigan in June and was also a tryscorer against Warrington on Friday.
If Clare keeps his spot in the team, he will switch to the other wing in place of Kirk Dixon, who was one of six players rested on Friday.
“There is no question Justin will play,” Powell said. “He’s an elite player. We do have two wingers and James Clare can play on both sides.
“He’s been outstanding, to be fair. He’s done a great job and he’s enhancing his reputation all the time.”
Leeds captain Kevin Sinfield, who is hoping to take part in his first final victory after experiencing five defeats in the last 10 years, will be playing only his second match in five weeks after completing a two-match ban for his dismissal in the 24-24 league draw against Castleford last month but he is not concerned about his lack of match practice.
“It might have been something I’d have worried about 10 years ago but not now,” Sinfield told the press conference.
While Leeds are looking to end a 15-year itch, it is 28 years since Castleford last won the famous trophy, courtesy of a 15-14 triumph over Hull KR in 1986, but captain Michael Shenton insists his team will be relaxed ahead of the big day.
“It’s about enjoying the week as well,” he said. “There’s a lot of build-up around it. You can’t play the game until Saturday so there is no point in getting too stressed about it.”
The Leeds team is: Z Hardaker; T Briscoe, K Watkins, J Moon, R Hall; K Sinfield (capt), D McGuire; K Leuluia, R Burrow, J Peacock, B Delaney, C Ablett, J Jones-Buchanan. Subs: I Kirke, R Bailey, P Aiton, L Sutcliffe.