Nice to play Leeds in the Challenge Cup isn't it. I mean it's not
like this is our fifth meeting in the last six seasons in the cup,
so it's nice to play them.|
But enough of the sarcasm. Serious
business is on the table and amazingly we are just 80 minutes from
a return trip to Wembley. That just doesn't feel right to me and
that perhaps is the problem with the Challenge Cup at the moment?
I mean last year the cup matches against Warrington, St Helens and
then Leeds at Wembley all came within a six week spell. Momentum
built up and it felt very special.
This year nine weeks have past since the Quarter Final victory
over St Helens and unlike last years victory at that stage, it was
a match best forgotten in truth. It just doesn't feel like a big
cup match is upon us.
Granted, I understand the Olympics are an issue for scheduling.
The BBC will be tied up for a whole two weeks covering that, but
why can't we be more flexible with the scheduling of the cup
final? I mean when it gets played on 25th August the Premier
League season will be back in flow and the press attention will be
fully on that.
Why not play it this weekend? What else is happening on
Saturday Afternoon? BBC are covering Scottish Open Golf, an event
they are dropping next year and are only really giving token
gesture coverage to. Quick look at Sky's schedules for Saturday
shows coverage of "Leicestershire v Gloucestershire" cricket,
"Fish 'O' Mania" and "Stormers v Rebels" Penalty Goal Kicking from
Cape Town. Theirs no Formula One this weekend or Test Cricket, so
why not use this to our advantage and have our showpiece game at a
time when hardly anything else is happening?
Another example. BBC Radio 5 Live (the main AM station, not the
digital Sports Extra) are doing full match commentary of this
game, yet they didn't even do that for the final last year. I know
full well they are only covering this because theirs bugger all
else on but that's my point. Are we not wasting a massive
opportunity to showcase our sport and big occasion? Perhaps we are
doing it anyway. This Semi Final is on BBC TWO after all but a
match at a more than half empty Galpharm Stadium isn't a showpiece
at a full Wembley is it?
Anyway, one thing is clear ahead of this match and that is that
Leeds fans clearly don't fancy this. They may have won four league
titles in the last five years, but the Challenge Cup is a painful
competition for them. They've lost seven of their last eight
Challenge Cup Final appearances with the one win being the easiest
ever cup final victory when they beat London 56-12 in 1999.
So they've never really had a proper cup final victory for
ages. It is perhaps for that reason why a Leeds fans I talk to on
Twitter (@gingerkev -
he's not Ginger or called Kevin but that's his twitter name) just
couldn't get his head round my argument last year that having won
the league in 2010, the Challenge Cup was the trophy I wanted us
to win for us in 2011. Leeds haven't had a tight, sweaty Wembley
victory since 1978 whilst Wigan have won the cup 11 times since
that year! Easy then to see the difference in attitudes. Don't get
me wrong I'd rather us win the Grand Final than Wembley this year
but I won't turn my nose up at a Wembley repeat!
The reason I say that Leeds don't fancy this is because I'm
told that whilst over 5,000 Wigan fans will be making the cross
Pennines journey to Galpharm Stadium on Saturday, Leeds are likely
to have about 25-30% less than that. The overall attendance will
get panned but I think the Wigan effort of more than 5,000 is
quite good considering the modern day attitude and dis-respect the
Challenge Cup recieves in it's scheduling.
If I'm honest though, that low Leeds following worries me a
bit. A non expectant crowd and an underdog mentality can often
work in a clubs favour. Huddersfield for example produced that
kind of success when beating Leeds (2006) and St Helens (2009) in
Cup Semi Finals. Castleford almost did it last year also when they
took Leeds to Extra Time before losing to a Golden Penalty Goal.
Then again, I just cannot see Wigan going in to the game with a
wrong attitude. Not with a coach like Shaun Wane. It's no
coincidence to me that our away form has been so awesome since he
become involved with the first team.
Wigan also get stronger with Josh Charnley, Paul Prescott, Mike
McIlorum and most importantly for me Jeff Lima all in contention
to return after missing the Wakefield trip. I still worry about
Sean O'Loughlin at Stand Off and goal kicking but it is certainly
still a strong squad.
The Rhinos meanwhile are finding form the pundits are all
telling us after they've won their last four in a row. Absolute
Bollocks is my response to that. Don't get me wrong, beating
us on Saturday would constitute them finding form but reality is
they've beat 11th, 12th and 14th in the table whilst also seeing
off a Hull side that is on it's arse with injuries. Three of those
games were at Headingley as well.
I mean last Friday they comfortably beat Hull but for me the
Leeds side in the pomp of 2007, 2008 and 2009 would have smashed
them with 40 or 50 points. Of course two points earned is two
points earned, whether you win by 1 point or 60 points, but I'm
absolutely convinced they will have to improve a hell of a lot on
their recent form to beat us.
For example the 58-12 win they earned at London looks a very
good score on paper, but it was only 24-12 after 60 minutes before
they scored six tries in the final quarter. That's London who have
only won 5 of their last 42 league matches that they took a long
time in breaking down.
You've got to question mark the Leeds defence also. We scored 9
tries at Headingley last month and I can't recall an easier
victory there. They let Wakefield score seven against them as well
whilst also letting Castleford score four.
So my basic conclusion here is that if Leeds are going to play
like they have been doing in recent times, then I think Wigan can
only beat themselves. If Leeds want to win they, like I said, are
going to have to produce a much improved display to win because I
just can't see Wigan playing badly. The Rhinos have arguably got
to play better than anything they've produced previously under
Brian McDermott and I include the Grand Final success.
The question I suppose is whether Leeds can produce it in a one
off environment. History says they can. They won the Grand Final
last year after all, despite a regular season as average as this
current one. But they didn't go through Wigan in doing so and
really you have to go back almost three and half years ago to
March 2009 to find a result that showed Leeds did a proper
impressive job in beating us.
The big game against last year was at Wembley, and yes we
got a bit of luck with that forward pass for Lima's second try,
but no one can argue surely against us being the better team that
day? At 16-0 I think we were a try away from making that a very
messy day for Leeds. Letting them score two tries in three minutes
just before half time was a valuable lesson that hopefully we've
I suspect that cup final memories might play a part in Leeds
tactics. They won't want us to get away to a fast start. In fact,
I think they will want to slow the game down as much as possible.
They would love heavy rain I think and a referee that lets them
slow down the ruck. But if Wigan are allowed to play with speed,
we'll kill them like we did at Headingley the other week. They
couldn't handle us that night and remember we had no Gareth Hock,
Harrison Hansen or Lee Mossop in the pack then either.
All in all I am confident, but not over confident. I do have a
nagging doubt that Leeds on their day can cause an upset in a one
off. They have the extra incentive as a squad of never having won
this competition and that can sometimes count for a lot. You don't
win four titles in five years by sheer fluke either but if Wigan
play at their top level and respect possession, I just can't see
enough class and forward dominance in Leeds squad to overcome
Let's just hope we are all flapping over, and queuing for,
Wembley tickets come Sunday Morning!