LEEDS RHINOS’ semi-final squad is packed with big-game experience, but Anthony Mullally is an exception.
The giant forward has a second tier Grand Final and a Million Pound match on his CV, but nothing like a battle with a place at Wembley up for grabs.
Mullally joined Rhinos ahead of the 2016 campaign which proved to be one of the most disappointing in the club’s history, so being part of a last-four showdown in the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup is something special.
He has played in Rhinos’ last 14 games, but admitted today’s tie – at a sold-out Keepmoat Stadium in Doncaster – will be the biggest of his career so far.
“There were a few semi-finals when I was at Huddersfield, but I always seemed to miss out,” said the Widnes-born 26-year-old.
“I was quite young then and it was down to experience, but I’m at the stage of my career where they trust me now, which is nice.
“The Million Pound game with Wakefield was probably the biggest game I have played in, that and the Championship Grand Final with Batley back in 2013.
“It has felt different this week to normal weeks, preparation has been a lot more detailed.
“We’ve been prepping for quite a while and I think everyone knows where we’re at.
“I’m trying not to think about it too much, I’ve just been trying to crack on with training.
“You can let it get on top of you. I have not been in too many big ones so I’m just trying to keep my cool.”
Rhinos have played five games since the semi-final draw and Mullally reckons they are battled-hardened and ready for the big one.
He added: “We have been thinking about it a bit, but we’ve also had some big games in the league to get second place, which we did.
“We’ve been taking each game as it comes, really.”
Rhinos have had a smooth passage to the semi-finals, having beaten part-time teams Doncaster, Barrow Raiders and Featherstone Rovers, all at Headingley.
Hull are the Cup holders, but Rhinos have held the upper hand in recent meetings including two wins this season.
The 10-7 triumph in Betfred Super League 15 days ago was their eighth successive victory against Hull in a run stretching back to September, 2014.
It is a similar story in the Challenge Cup. The teams have met eight times since 2000 and Hull’s only win was in the 2005 final.
Recent form suggests today’s tie will be close and only one place and three points separated the sides in the table at the end of the regular season.
“The Cup’s different to the league,” Mullally warned.
“Even though we’ve beaten them twice this year we aren’t thinking too much about that.
“They are a big, physical team – they are going to come out of the blocks and try and out-muscle us so we have to be ready for that.”
Rhinos hit back from 7-0 down at half-time in the recent meeting.
Both teams defended strongly, but Hull dropped a lot of ball.
Mullally expects them to be better this afternoon, but feels Rhinos will also improve.
“We have a bit of adversity ourselves with Stevie [Ward] and Keith [Galloway] going off in the same set,” he pointed out.
“We only had two subs so we did it tough. We will have a full team this time.”
The prize on offer today is huge.
Rhinos are aiming for a sixth Cup final appearance in eight seasons while Hull, having shaken off their Wembley hoodoo, are determined to retain the trophy for the first time.
Mullally said: “It would be massive for us to get to the final, especially after last year and where we were then.
“Everyone wrote us off and nobody thought we’d be where we are this year.
“For me personally, I’ve never played in a final so to get there would be a big experience.
“Even when I was a kid it crossed my mind what it would be like to play at Wembley.
“Now I am closer to it, but I am not thinking about the final yet – I am just focusing on beating Hull.
“We really want to beat Hull then we can enjoy the final if we get to it, but we have got to get through this game first.”
The prospect of playing in big games, such as Cup semi-finals, was one of the reasons behind Mullally’s move from Huddersfield to Leeds. He is happy to have finally got there after the disappointment last term when they finished ninth in Super League and had to scrap for their top-flight lives in the middle-eights Qualifiers.
“It was tough last year and Mondays now are very different to what they were a year ago,” Mullally said.
“When we came in after games last year it was like a big black cloud hanging over our heads, but we are a lot more positive now, especially after getting some decent results.”
Last week away to Wigan was only Mullally’s fifth start in 22 appearances this term. He said: “I think this is the most consistent season I’ve had for getting regular game time and winning with the team.
“I have been on the bench a lot, but I enjoy coming off the bench and making an impact. I am happy just to be in the team.”