WE NEED to raise the bar. That’s Leeds Rhinos warhorse Jamie Peacock’s attitude ahead of his last Challenge Cup final appearance this afternoon.
The Wembley set-to with Hull Kingston Rovers could be the initial stage of an historic treble, but Peacock insisted Rhinos must step up if they are to achieve their goals this year.
Rhinos are in contention for all three major honours – the Challenge Cup, league leaders’ shield and Super League title – in what will be the final season at the club for Peacock and fellow stalwarts Kevin Sinfield and Kylie Leuluai.
The three club legends are in a strong position to enjoy a golden farewell, but Peacock is aware all the hard work and good performances put in so far this year will count for nothing if the wheels come off over the next two months.
“We have still got to deliver,” Peacock admitted. “This is the crunch time of the year.
“You can play ordinary for 25 games and turn up at the end and look great – or play exceptionally for the first two-thirds of the year and then not play well at the back end and no one remembers you, so it’s about raising the bar again.”
Rhinos will go into the final with a four-point lead in the First Utility Super-8s table and on the back of six straight wins, but Peacock reckons they are in that position because of the work put in behind the scenes by coach Brian McDermott and his staff, as much as the players themselves.
“There’s some good players here and some who are world class,” the 37-year-old veteran said.
“But the key is the ethos and environment the coaching staff have created.
“I think you can have the best players in the world, but if you’ve not got the right environment, you’re not going to win anything.
“We haven’t won anything yet, but we’ve got potential to do that and as much credit has to go to the coaching staff as the players.”
Ironically, Peacock’s seventh and last Challenge Cup decider will be against the club he is set to join next season, as football manager.
“There’s no sentiment from me going into the game,” he insisted. “I’m going to win as a Leeds Rhinos player, that’s 100 per cent what I’m focused on.
“I’m pleased for the Hull KR club that they are there, but that’s as far as it goes for me.”
Rovers are underdogs against the current holders, but Peacock is experienced enough to know that will count for little when the first whistle blows.
“Hull KR are a very good attacking side and we’ll have to be very good defensively,” he warned.
“They have got some exceptional players, players who can break games. They under-achieved in the league, no doubt about that. They shouldn’t be in the Qualifiers, but they played exceptionally well to get through to this final.”
A win for Hull KR would probably make Peacock’s job easier next year, but he stressed he decided to join the East Yorkshire outfit for the challenge.
“You lose a lot of challenges when you finish playing professional sport, so you have to find them elsewhere and a job that presents them,” he said.
“I think that’s what I’ve gone out and done. In that regard I felt if I was working at Leeds, it’s that well run I’m not sure what the challenges would be.
“And I mean that in the greatest respect to Leeds and the management, but I want to go work somewhere where I can make a real impact and I’ll live or die by the sword.”
All that is for the future. Peacock will have his game head on come 3.15pm today, but he is determined to enjoy his last appearance at Wembley – and he said there will be no nerves before the match.
“I’m pretty excited to be honest,” he said.
“I was probably more nervous going into the Saints game, as the semi-final is a horrible place to lose and you never get to Wembley.
“It’s good for all my family to get that trip down to Wembley one last time and just realise how special it is. And the game, I’m just looking forward to playing it.
“I can’t wait. It’s like that week when you’re a kid and you’ve broken up from school for Christmas and it’s seven days away, but feels like seven months. It’s like that!”