AHEAD OF tomorrow’s Ladbrokes Challenge Cup semi-final Leeds Rhinos boss Kevin Sinfield is focusing on a good performance, rather than a possible Wembley appearance.
Rhinos will go into the clash with Warrington Wolves at the newly-renamed University of Bolton Stadium having won just one of their final 10 Betfred Super League fixtures.
They were crushed 38-22 at second-bottom Salford Red Devils eight days ago and are a week away from beginning their fight against relegation in the Super-8s Qualifiers.
It is not a typical situation for Challenge Cup semi-finalists and Rhinos’ director of rugby stressed: “It’s a big game and the competition is special, but performance is crucial.”
He said: “I don’t think we’re in a position to talk about winning, given last Friday’s performance. I think we’ve got a lot to work on before we even think about winning.
“We’ve been the underdog many, many times and been able to use it to our advantage and we’ll try and do that this time. We’ve just got to perform – we’ll give ourselves a chance then.
We’ve been the underdog many, many times and been able to use it to our advantage and we’ll try and do that this time. We’ve just got to perform – we’ll give ourselves a chance then.Kevin Sinfield
“Even after last Friday’s disappointment I still believe in this group and I still think we are capable of performing really, really well this weekend.”
If Leeds do win tomorrow the Wembley effect could have a bearing on their form in the Qualifiers, but Sinfield insisted that is not an issue.
“Everybody wants to talk about the relegation battle and what’s to come in the eights, but that’s for further down the track,” he said.
“If you look at the squad there’s a large number who played in the Grand Final last year and a large number who’ve played in some Challenge Cup games for us this this year and played in big games at other clubs.
“But I was speaking to Brett Ferres the other day; he has never won a Challenge Cup semi-final. A guy with that many internationals under his belt and that much experience doesn’t know what it’s like to win a big semi-final and we’ve got a whole host of young players who’ve never done it.
“It is important we channel a bit of experience and learn from some of the guys who’ve been there before, but ultimately we’ve just got to play well.”
Warrington finished third in the regular season, winning six more games than Rhinos and Sinfield is in no doubt about the scale of this weekend’s Challenge.
“Warrington are a good side, they’ve got some good players and they’ve recruited really well,” he said. “[Coach] Steve Price has done a terrific job and Kylie Leuluai is there as well, a good friend of mine and a good friend of this club. He’s had a huge impact on what they’re doing.
“It’s a tough proposition and they’ll be a huge challenge for us.”
Tomorrow is Sinfield’s first big showpiece occasion in a backroom role. Explaining how his partnership with first team coach James Lowes works, he said: “Jimmy does most of the coaching and we run sessions through between us and plan and I jump in here and there.
“Part of me wishes I was playing and able to affect it, but I’m too old now so I’ve got to get over it and I am enjoying it. It is quite tiring, it is pretty busy, but it’s great to be back at the club. It has been a great challenge.
“Even when I look back on last Friday, it was horrible, but I think the challenge of improving yourself and testing yourself is great, but also the challenge of trying to improve 30 other people as well and making them better is very rewarding.
“The players know [what’s expected of them]. They understand it, they get it. Some of it’s through repetition and some of it is just through just going through it and experiencing some rocky and tough times which they’ve had to do a fair bit already this year.
“I think it’s really easy to talk through some plays and different patterns and what’s expected on the field and from a system point of view.
“It can go in and it can stick, but when you’re tired and bullets are being fired at you you go back to some of your instincts.
“That’s where we need to get to. At the minute we aren’t, but that’s only because it’s been three weeks.”
Sinfield reckons Rhinos are in a similar situation now to the start of the summer era. He added: “It reminds me of 1996 and certainly a little bit of 1997. It took a couple of years from then to win a bit of silverware and consistently start winning silverware.
“I am under no illusion how big a task it is. We are going to face some setbacks along the way and it’s going to be tough, but ultimately I believe we’ll get there.
“I think we are miles further ahead [than in 1996], the infrastructure we’ve got and the people involved at the club, but we do need to change.
“Probably in previous years we might just have tinkered a bit, but there probably has to be some decent-sized changes here to affect what we are putting out on the field.”