THE GHOST of past finals still haunts Kevin Sinfield, but he plans to take a relaxed approach to his seventh and last Challenge Cup showpiece.
Sinfield finally got his hands on the Challenge Cup, now sponsored by Ladbrokes, a year ago, going some way to make up for more than his fair share of anguish in rugby league’s most prestigious knockout competition.
Sinfield was dropped for the 2000 final, when Leeds Rhinos lost to Bradford Bulls – and blamed three years later following defeat to the same opposition.
Rhinos lost that one by two points, after the skipper opted not to kick for goal with a late penalty.
He also captained Leeds when they lost to Hull in 2005, Warrington Wolves in 2010 and 2012 and Wigan Warriors in 2011, before last year’s success against Castleford Tigers.
Relief was the overriding emotion last August and some of the pressure is off Leeds ahead of Saturday’s showdown with Hull KR, but Sinfield said their determination to win remains just as strong.
“There’s been a few moments in this competition that have haunted me,” the 34-year-old - who will set a record for Cup final captaincies – admitted.
“You grow to deal with certain things though and I’ve dealt with everything it has thrown at me now.
“I believe everything happens for a reason and there’s been some tough times in this competition.
“You walk away thinking whether you want to go through it all again – and question whether it’s easier to go out in an earlier round to avoid the pain of losing at Wembley.
“Getting that last year was all about persevering and not giving up and we got to taste what it’s like to win the Challenge Cup. I’d stopped thinking about what it would be like to win. In your first couple of finals you think about it and how lucky you’d be, but I got to the stage where I just decided to forget about it and not worry about it too much.
“I just wanted to experience winning so much and get the feeling of being vindicated and satisfied. Those moments are very difficult to come by in your career.”
Saturday’ final is the next hurdle between Sinfield and what could be a golden farewell to rugby league. Rhinos are also in contention for the league leaders’ shield and the Super League title and he added: “This next little period of my career and life can be really good and really exciting.
“I’m aware of the opportunities available over the next two months with the Rhinos and we’ve never been in this position before, but I know how focused I need to be going forward through this period in these last two months.”
Despite Leeds being on the verge of what could be the greatest season in the club’s history, Sinfield insists he is having no second thoughts about his decision to move on.
“I just felt it was the right opportunity to do something I’ve always wanted to do at the right time,” he said of his switch of codes.
“There were a lot of factors in it, but to walk away from a club like this isn’t done easily, believe me.
“Next year would have been my 20th season and it’s so tough to walk away from something I’ve put so much into and got so much out of it.
“But if I didn’t do it next year I don’t think I’d get another chance. I didn’t want to be 40 or 45 and reflecting and kicking myself that I didn’t have a go.
“My love for rugby league and the Rhinos will never change – I’ll be at Headingley most Fridays when they’re playing – but it was just the right time.”