Leeds Rhinos v Wigan: Peacock ready for Wembley bow INTERVIEW

Jamie Peacock in match action.
Jamie Peacock in match action.
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Twelve months ago, Jamie Peacock was putting on a brave face as he was being fitted for his Wembley suit, knowing it would be his attire throughout the day of the Challenge Cup final.

The England captain was forced to watch the big match from the sidelines after suffering a heart-breaking season-ending knee injury a fortnight earlier and his frustration only grew as Leeds spluttered their way to a 30-8 defeat by Warrington.

That ruptured knee ligament denied Peacock the opportunity to realise one of the few ambitions he has left by running out at Wembley but one of the modern game’s greatest players will put that right next week when the Rhinos take on Wigan looking to atone for last year’s humiliation.

“It was hugely disappointing and frustrating,” he recalled. “But you just deal with things as a professional rugby player. I always tend to look on the positive side.

“I was hugely disappointed for the players. Finals are the worst place to lose and to lose in that manner hurt particularly bad.”

Peacock, the only Leeds player to experience a Cup final victory thanks to his successes with Bradford at Murrayfield in 2000 and in Cardiff three years later, never gave up hope of playing at Wembley and he is now set to step out there twice in three months, with England meeting Australia at the national stadium in the Four Nations Series in November.

It is a far cry from his early days at Bradford, when he struggled to get into the side and he thought his world had ended when he was dropped by coach Matthew Elliott for the 1999 Grand Final against St Helens.

“I thought I was playing well enough to earn my place,” he said. “I look back now and think it a great decision because it kickstarted my career, but at that time it was hugely disappointing, probably more than last year because I had never played in a final.

“I looked at it last year and thought `I’ve been lucky to play in a lot of finals and I’ve still got a couple of years left to play in more finals`.”

Peacock believes that crushing Wembley defeat highlighted a need to change attitudes at Headingley and he welcomed the arrival of his former Bradford team-mate Brian McDermott, who was initially appointed as assistant coach but was quickly promoted when Brian `Bluey` McClennan resigned.

“A lot of things needed changing regarding behaviour and culture and Macca got on top of that,” said Peacock.

“I think it was the right time for the players and for Bluey, who has gone on and got his dream job in the NRL.

“They say coaches only have a certain length of time in the same job. Bluey was very successful but it was time to change.”

The change looked to have backfired when McDermott found himself under pressure after the Rhinos lost 10 of their first 21 Super League matches but they have got their season back on track with a five-match winning run, including cup triumphs over Hull and Castleford.

“The lads have always been 100% behind him,” added Peacock. “It’s taken time but we’re getting there.

“I’ve been involved in rugby a long time and I knew what he was doing was right, it was just a question of everyone doing it.

“I knew he’d eventually be successful. The biggest thing is the improvement in our attitude and that has changed permanently.”

Peacock is keen to ensure he makes the most of his belated chance to play at Wembley and, having missed the first three months of the season while recuperating from knee surgery, he insists he is in the perfect shape to do just that.

“Having the time off has revitalised myself,” he said. “I’ve got rid of a lot of the niggling injuries I was carrying.

“I’m feeling in good shape going into the back end of the year and going into the last couple of years of my career.”

Matt Parcell

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