NOW THE dust has begun to settle on their record-breaking Wembley triumph, Leeds Rhinos are determined not to repeat the “mistakes” of last year.
Rhinos have got back down to business after their 50-0 thrashing of Hull KR in the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup final three days ago.
And winger Ryan Hall revealed the players have already spoken about the way their performances collapsed following last year’s Wembley success and the need to ensure that doesn’t happen again.
Rhinos are in pole position to claim a second trophy, the league leaders’ shield and need just one more win to guarantee a home semi-final, but Hall said they have to learn from what happened a year ago and ensure they don’t let the Cup final triumph become a fatal distraction to their Super-8s campaign.
The win over Castleford Tigers at Wembley 12 months ago was Rhinos’ last victory of 2014.
They lost their last five Super League fixtures – slumping to sixth in the table – and were beaten at home by Catalans Dragons in an elimination play-off.
Leeds’ only victories after July 25 were the Challenge Cup semi-final and final and Hall said the team are still haunted by memories of the way their season went off the rails.
Last year the Challenge Cup was a huge focus for Rhinos, who had not won the trophy since 1999 and lost six finals in the 21st century. This season they have set their sights on being consistent in both league and cup and with little more than a month to go are still in the running for an historic treble.
“It has been mentioned, last year and the way we finished,” said Hall.
“We don’t want to produce anything like last year.
“We want to learn from our mistakes and be the team we know we can be.
“We have been very professional in our performances up to now.
“We have enjoyed the final – we had a good night afterwards – but we were in on Monday and back to the job at hand.”
By coincidence, Rhinos face the same opposition in their first game after the final, St Helens, as they did last year.
In 2014 Saints won 13-12 at Headingley, after Rhinos centre Joel Moon was sent-off in the first half.
The club had held a Wembley homecoming on the Monday afternoon, just four days before facing Saints.
This year it was brought forward 24 hours, to give the players a longer build-up to the match.
Rhinos are four points clear at the top of the First Utility Super-8s table, with four games to play and have a points difference advantage of 136 over second-placed Wigan Warriors, so a win on Friday would move them to within touching distance of a first table top finish since 2009, making it a key fixture.
“This year’s different,” Hall said. “It’s nothing like last year, we’ve got additions to the squad and we have learned from last year.
“We’ve learned that we have to celebrate on the night of the final and the day after and enjoy what it’s all about, but then we need to get back on with the job and make sure we kick on.”
Rhinos are on a seven-game winning run and Hall said they have taken heart from their clinical display at Wembley, when they scored a record-equalling nine tries and kept their first clean sheet for four years.
“That performance was a product of all the preparations the team went through in the week,” Hall said.
“I think that was the best prepared we’ve been for a final in the Challenge Cup. I know we won last year, but I think we were better prepared this time, just because there was so much hype and so much talk in the papers about us being favourites.
“We put that to one side and prepared like we would for any other game and that paid dividends.”
The feeling after the final last year was more relief than joy, but Hall said it was tough to compare the two wins.
“You can’t really say one year was better than the other,” he stated. “This year was brilliant, last year was brilliant again.
“We played a different team, it was a different scoreline and we had a different structure and belief this year, which we could fall back on. We are in a stronger position this year than we were last year and we’ve got to make that count.”
Hall will attend tomorrow’s Lance Todd dinner, when he will present the trophy he won in 2014 to this year’s Cup final man of the match – Rhinos’ other winger Tom Briscoe. Hall said: “I got man of the match with two tries. It’s slightly different with Tom this year, who scored five!
“That’s a fantastic record in itself and I couldn’t be more pleased for him.
“He was out for so long with his shoulder injury. He started the year in great form.
“He was playing better than I was at the start of the year and he has come back from injury in great style and produced a five-try performance at Wembley.
“It could not have happened to a better person; he is such a good guy.”