Seu' at Wembley - Ava relishing Leeds Rhinos' Challenge Cup final showdown with Salford Red Devils
Having joined the club during a relegation battle, Ava Seumanufagai reckons tomorrow’s Coral Challenge Cup final appearance shows how far Leeds Rhinos have come over the past year and a half.
Seumanufagai’s Leeds debut was a defeat at Wembley opponents Salford Red Devils in May last year, a result which cost then-coach Dave Furner his job.
Rhinos were dumped out of the Cup by Betfred Championship side Bradford Bulls the following week and did not confirm their place in the top-flight until three games from the end of the 2019 campaign.
But under boss Richard Agar they have improved steadily, winning 10 of their 15 competitive games this season - two of the defeats coming when they fielded an understrength team against top opposition - and Seumanufagai believes the outlook is much brighter now.
“It is night and day since I have been here,” the former Wests Tigers and Cronulla Sharks front-rower said.
“They have done some great recruiting and also the young boys have really proven themselves.
“The team is looking really strong at the moment and we are all playing well together.
“It has been great for us, a lot more enjoyable when the team is playing well.”
The go-forward Seumanufagai added to the team has been crucial to their improvement, but he insisted his fellow pack men have made just as big an impact, particularly this year.
“Mik [Oldezki] is killing it at the moment,” he said.
“There were glimpses of it last year, it was just a case of him getting the confidence.
“At some stage this year it just clicked for him and the team is better for it.
“And Tom [Holroyd] brings a lot to us when he comes off the bench, he has got a lot of energy and he throws his whole body on the line.
“When those young boys are turning up like that it really helps the team.”
Rhinos have beaten Salford twice this season, hitting back from two tries down to win 22-8 at AJ Bell Stadium in February and following that up with a 50-12 success in Warrington in August.
But Salford are in good form and Seumanufagai is expecting a close encounter which could go right to the wire.
“They have gone well in recent games,” he said of tomorrow’s opponents.
“You can beat a team however many times in a season, but in the final everyone turns up.
“It’s not expected to be an easy game at all.
“We have had a pretty big week at training, the boys are switched on and there’s a good feeling around training.
“The boys are confident about their roles and we have had enough time now to get used to each other after the [coronavirus] break, so I think we are all clicking well at the moment.”
Seumanufagai admits he took time to regain his feet after rugby league’s long layoff, but feels he is starting to do that now.
He said: "I am getting better every week.
“I wasn’t too happy after lockdown, when I came back, but at the moment I am starting to play as good or better than I was before the break.
“I just want to keep that form going and doing my best for the team. I know if I have a good game it really helps the team.”
The 29-year-old has 118 NRL games to his name, but tomorrow will be his first major final.
“It’s only recently the boys have been telling me how prestigious it is to win it,” he said of the Challenge Cup.
“I remember last year we lost to Bulls, it was my second game here and I didn’t really understand why it was such a big thing, but I understand it now.
“I haven’t played in a big final before, this will be the first time I am looking forward to it.
“I know the nerves will kick in later, but at the moment I am pretty excited.”
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