IT TAKES a perfect performance to win at Wembley, Challenge Cup final veteran Richard Mathers believes.
The Wakefield Trinity Wildcats full-back has twice experienced victory on the big stage, with Warrington Wolves in 2009 against Huddersfield Giants and the following year, when they beat Leeds Rhinos.
Mathers was also a Cup finalist for Rhinos, in a defeat by Hull at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium nine years ago and is an ex-Castleford Tigers player.
He will be at Wembley tomorrow – on corporate duties for the Rugby Football League (RFL) – when Leeds and Castleford face off in the first all-Yorkshire final since 2005.
And assessing just what it takes to win rugby league’s biggest knockout competition, Mathers put the teams’ chances of success down to “how you handle it on the day”.
He said: “I’ve been lucky enough to win two finals and I’ve been beaten in one and looking back, I can see why.
“When we lost against Hull we were raging favourites and not many people, other than Hull supporters, gave Hull a chance.
“But Hull were the better side, they had the more dominant forward pack and they kicked much better than we did.
“We were right in it until the end and we could have hung on, but these things happen. Other than Keith Senior’s ankle injury, there was nothing wrong with our preparation, but we weren’t good enough.”
Mathers added: “In 2009 and 2010 we played perfectly on the day – I have played nearly 300 games and I’ve never been in teams that have executed the game-plan as well and stuck to it for the full 80 minutes.
“Everything we practised, we stuck to and that is a hard thing to do.
“I don’t think we were a better-quality side than the opposition, but everything we had spoken about and practised we did, from minute one to minute 80.”
As for tomorrow’s game, Mathers predicted: “I just feel it’s Leeds’ year.
“No disrespect to Cas, who have been brilliant. I have a lot of respect for (Tigers coach) Daryl Powell, but I think Leeds have the big-game experience and their big players step up when they are needed the most.
“If people like JP (Jamie Peacock), Danny (McGuire) and Kev (Sinfield) play at the peak of their game, the rest will follow.
“They haven’t got many shots left. I think Rhinos will win, but it’ll be very, very close.”