Yorkshire rivals set for cup battle

Brian McDermott does not believe his Leeds side fear the big occasions

Brian McDermott does not believe his Leeds side fear the big occasions

First published in National Sport © by

The only certainty about Saturday's Tetley's Challenge Cup final is that, for the first time for nine years, the trophy will be heading to the east of the Pennines.

It has already been a momentous sporting year for Yorkshire, most notably with the triumphant Grand Depart of the Tour de France, but also with a host of Commonwealth Games medals that would have secured the same respectable place in the medals table the county memorably achieved at the London Olympics.

And, after eight years of dominance by St Helens, Warrington and Wigan, a Yorkshireman will get his hands on the famous trophy when Brian McDermott's Leeds do battle with Daryl Powell's Castleford at Wembley.

"We've done a bit in Yorkshire this year with sport," McDermott said.

"The Brownlee brothers keep smashing everybody that comes their way, there is Nicola Adams and the Tour de France, which came through my village, so let's hope the final lives up to expectations - classy Cas against the supposed millionaires of Leeds Rhinos."

Both McDermott and Powell have enjoyed success as players in rugby league's enduring knockout competition but have experienced only frustration as coaches.

McDermott, a no-nonsense prop in the magnificent Bradford side that swept all before them in the early days of Super League, was in the Bulls team that beat the Rhinos at Murrayfield in 2000, a year after Powell starred for Leeds in their victory over London Broncos.

Powell then took Leeds to the 2003 final only to watch them go down once more to Bradford while McDermott has presided over Wembley defeats at the hands of Warrington and Wigan since taking over the reins at Headingley four years ago.

It is one of the biggest sporting conundrums that Leeds can boast the most successful record in Grand Finals, with six triumphs in the last 10 years, yet have to go back to the last millennium for their last Challenge Cup success.

S ix final losses - the Rhinos also went down to Hull in 2005 and Warrington in 2010 - might suggest they bottle it on the big occasion but their near-perfect record at Old Trafford, where their only Grand Final defeat was in 2005, suggests otherwise and McDermott believes it has simply been a case of them meeting their match on the day.

"I think against Warrington (a 30-6 defeat in 2010) it was a bad day but previous to that, Hull was a tight game, and the time before that it was another dramatic game against Bradford," McDermott said.

"We had a really close game against Wigan in 2011 and, while we never really got going against Warrington in 2012, we weren't blown away. My point is that we're not doing anything wrong.

"It's not as if we've been getting there and everything has been going wrong. There's nothing too dramatic.

"By nature, when you get to the Challenge Cup final, you play good teams and somebody has got to lose.

"You can put things in place beforehand to try to prevent that happening but the beauty is you just don't know what's going to happen when the whistle blows."

If Leeds think 15 years is a long time to wait, they should spare a thought for their rivals, whose last Wembley appearance was in 1992, six years after they beat Hull KR 15-14 to lift the trophy for the last time.

Malcolm Reilly, coach of the successful 1986 team, will address Powell's class of 2014 in the build-up to Saturday's game and will sense a mood of quiet optimism in the underdogs' camp.

Neutrals at Wembley will no doubt get behind Powell's Cinderella outfit, although few would begrudge the likes of Kevin Sinfield, Rob Burrow and Danny McGuire finally getting their hands on the only big prize to elude them throughout their magnificent careers.

Sentiment will count for nothing come kick-off, however, and Powell will certainly have no sympathy for his old club.

"Just because you've lost six, doesn't mean you've got to win the seventh," Powell said. "It can become seven and it's our job to make that happen and to heap the pressure on them as the game gets going."

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