Castleford Tigers' Gareth O'Brien confident of being fit for Wembley Challenge Cup final showdown with St Helens
For a while it seemed his Wembley hopes had been shattered, but Castleford Tigers’ drop goal hero Gareth O’Brien expects to be available for Saturday’s Betfred Challenge Cup final against St Helens.
O’Brien has not played since suffering a knee injury in Tigers’ Super League win at Wakefield Trinity on June 16, a month and a day before the showpiece.
The full-back/half-back was clearly distraught after that game, when it seemed he was facing a long layoff, but insisted the injury was not as bad as first feared.
He recalled: “When I hyperextended, obviously my knee was not meant to bend that way.
“It looked worse on the video and it was painful when I did it, but thankfully, all my ligaments were fine.
“I have done a little bit of work on it over the last for weeks and I will be 100 per cent.”
The knee problem was the latest in a series of injuries which have hampered O’Brien’s season, but he pledged: “I am feeling good.”
He said: “I have had a bit of a frustrating start to the year - I haven’t been able to put a run of games together as I am in and out with a few niggles, but I have had a very good rest and I will be ready for this week.”
Though O’Brien’s golden-point drop goals got Tigers through their first two Cup ties this year, against Hull KR and Salford Red Devils, he stressed reaching Saturday’s final has been a squad effort.
“We have not done it the easy way, we can make things hard for ourselves,” he conceded.
“I am just the one sticking the winning goal over, it is a massive team effort over the 80 minutes and then in extra time.
“We have all played our part, it is not just me.
“Hopefully we can take advantage of this massive opportunity.”
Saints will be favourites, having more big-game experience and better recent form.
O’Brien, though, is confident Tigers will handle the occasion.
“I am really looking forward to this week,” he added.
“I have never played in a Challenge Cup final before and the prize at the end of it is huge.
“I have been part of the squad for a Challenge Cup final with Warrington, so I know what the day is all about.
“I remember how good that was just being part of the squad.
“I hope I can run out on the field and take part and hopefully get a result.
“The boys are preparing well and we are all looking forward to it.”
Wembley has been the centre of national - and international - attention over the past few weeks, which makes Saturday even more enticing, according to O’Brien.
He said: “I have been watching England at the Euros and getting excited about playing there myself.
“It is good we have got 45,000 capacity, it is going to be a big crowd and massive for the fans and the players as well.
“We will be preparing well and trying to treat it as any other game. It is a big test for us, but a massive game and massive opportunity.”
Support the YEP and become a subscriber today. Enjoy unlimited access to local news and the latest on Leeds United, With a digital subscription, you see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Click here to subscribe.