WINNING THE Challenge Cup last year has made the competition even more important to Leeds Rhinos, Rob Burrow says.
Rhinos begin their defence of the trophy in an all-Super League tie at home to Huddersfield Giants tomorrow.
Leeds’ last Cup match was the 23-10 Wembley win over Castleford Tigers nine months ago, which ended the club’s 15-year wait to get their hands on the sport’s oldest trophy.
But Burrow said nobody in Rhinos’ camp is playing down the importance of tomorrow’s game, despite having finally ended their long barren run in the competition.
“It’s massive,” Burrow said of the BBC-televised tie. “It’s one of the most prestigious competitions in our game anyway, but coming off last year – with us winning it – it’s even bigger for me.
“The fact we have got that monkey off our back and got the win doesn’t mean we can put our feet up. I think it gives you more determination to go on and try and be involved in games like that again. It was a great experience and we believe this team has got more experiences like that in us.”
Until last August, Rhinos had lost all six finals they had appeared in since the 1999 Cup triumph over London Broncos and were under huge pressure to get their hands on the trophy before the most successful side in the club’s history breaks up.
“There’s no pressure on us now,” Burrow said. “The only pressure is what we put on ourselves. We want to be involved in the final and to win finals and the pressure is to be involved again and win it again. We are a squad that thrives on the big games and that’s what we want to continue to do.”
Rhinos are 14 games into their Super League campaign and Burrow feels the chance to focus on a different prize is welcome.
“The build up to Challenge Cup games is different,” he said.
“The Challenge Cup has a different edge to Super League, because it’s knockout rugby.
“You probably play the game a little bit differently, not in major ways, but the way games end is different, because there’s no second chance.
“The whole build-up to it seems different, because it’s a different comp to the league.”
Though Leeds are two points clear at the top of the table, Giants are the form team going into tomorrow’s tie, having been unbeaten in their last four matches. Rhinos have failed to win any of their last three, including a 24-24 draw at Huddersfield 15 days ago.
“It’s not ideal,” Burrow said of Rhinos’ form leading into tomorrow.
“Especially from where we’ve been at, we’ve been very good at times this year.
“At the moment we are having a bit of a lull in form. It does happen.
“It’s not something you want, but you aren’t going to go through the season with a six-point gap (at the top of the table).
“You can’t continue like that, because other teams go through different form themselves. We have times when we’re not brilliant, but that’s down to the strength of the comp.
“Just a couple of wins by somebody down near the bottom of the table can make a big difference.
“It would be ideal to go in with some form, but it’s all about challenges and we’ve got a challenge in front of us this week because we’ve got to be good. We know we’ve got to be better than we have been.”
Leeds beat Giants 28-24 at home in Super League round three, but let a 22-8 half-time lead slip two weeks ago, before a late penalty goal salvaged a point. Burrow said: “We’ll take a lot from that, but then again this is a different game and we won’t dwell on it. We know we’ve got to play well ourselves and that’s more important than looking back at what happened in any other game.”