THERE WILL be no demons lurking in the back of Tom Briscoe’s mind when he returns to the scene of the crime tonight.
Briscoe is set to play his second comeback game for Leeds Rhinos following shoulder surgery in their Ladbrokes Challenge Cup semi-final against St Helens at Warrington’s HJ Stadium.
The injury happened in Leeds’ First Utility Super League defeat on the same ground at the start of the season, but the winger said a successful return against Catalans last week has put all that behind him.
“I got it at Warrington, but that definitely won’t be in the back of my mind,” Briscoe insisted. “After coming off the back of last week and coming through that game unscathed, the cobwebs have been blown off and I am ready to go. There’s no nerves or any negative thoughts about that.”
Briscoe scored four tries in his five games before the injury and was rated by coach Brian McDermott as Leeds’ most in-form player. Of getting back to that level, he said: “That’s the challenge ahead of me. I showed where I could get to with my performances and that’s where I need to get to now. I have had one game to warm up for it and there’s no better game to go into and show that type of form again than a semi-final.”
Briscoe got through last Sunday’s match with no ill-effects and a well-taken hat-trick proved he has lost none of his try scoring instinct. He added: “It feels great to first of all have come through unhurt and also to get that first game out of the way. The tries were a bonus, they were nice to have coming back, but the more important thing for me was to get through that game and know my shoulder was good to go.”
The Challenge Cup semi-finals seemed a long way off when Briscoe was hurt in Rhinos’ 18-6 defeat by Warrington Wolves on March 13. He reflected: “It was a three-to-four-month injury and it has been just over four months. I would have liked to have got back a couple of weeks earlier, but it wasn’t to be. The recovery didn’t go as fast as I would have liked, but I was happy to get one game in and get the rust out of the way before what’s to come, in the Super-8s as well as the Challenge Cup.”
Briscoe, who was a Wembley runner-up twice with Hull, admitted the prospect of returning for the business end of the season had kept his spirits up during the dark days when he was unable to train or play.
He said: “I knew I wouldn’t be playing in the last round.
“But when we got through that round I earmarked this semi-final as one I wanted to be back for.
“It would have been good to have a couple more games, but it wasn’t to be. I got one game in and that has set me right for going into this one.”
Rhinos beat Saints 41-16 at Langtree Park in April and 46-18 on home soil four weeks ago.
But Briscoe stressed: “We know it [tonight] is going to be a really tough game, against a really big pack. On the back of that they’ve got great half-backs and outside-backs, who can really take advantage. Over the last few weeks they have scored from deep within their own half, so they are a great team that has strike from anywhere on the field.”
Saints have not been to Wembley since 2008. Rhinos have played there four times during their absence, winning it once, but Briscoe said the lure of reaching the world’s most famous stadium remains just as strong within Leeds’ camp.
“Winning the Cup is a massive experience,” he said. “Having won at Wembley last year, we’d love to retain it this season. Once you have won there you get the taste of it and you want that again and again. Thankfully we are in a good position going into this game. It is leading to an exciting end to the season, especially with us being top [of Super League going into the Super-8s] as well.
“For me, in my second year at Leeds, to play in my second Cup final would be amazing. One of the reasons I came to the club was to play in the big games and, at the moment, it has lived up to that.”
Tonight’s tie is the first semi-final to be played on a Friday night, rather than the traditional Saturday or Sunday afternoon.
“Both us and Saints play our home games on a Friday night, so it’s nothing different,” Briscoe said. “When we play at Warrington is is usually a Friday night game, so we are used to it and it won’t make any difference to either side, I wouldn’t have thought.”
Ash Handley, who played all 19 games during Briscoe’s lay-off, ran in a hat-trick in both Rhinos’ Super League victories over Saints. He has been named in the initial 19-man squad for tonight, but McDermott has confirmed Briscoe will play after he proved his form and fitness with last week’s treble.
“He has really lived up to the potential he has shown throughout his amateur career and coming through the club,” Briscoe said of Handley. “He was seen as one for the future and I think he has really stepped up and played well. He has shown what a talent he is and he will be keeping me and Ryan [Hall] on our toes and making sure we have to be on our best game.
“That’s what you want within the team, you always want competition for places and that drives performances. That will only benefit the team.”