Well argue as you might about the value , the timing, and the merits or otherwise of the winners, the fact is the challenge cup final is here! And whatever we say about the merits of demerits our sport’s oldest trophy the fact that we are in the 2010 final has added huge anticipation and excitement to a season that has seen us dogged by injuries and ‘not quite there’ performances.
Thinking about the match itself there’s no doubt that of all the opposition coaches in Super League Tony Smith knows most about us and is probably best placed to plot our downfall. His Warrington side is filled with big game players and having tasted success at this venue last year they will be hungry for more. They play good fast expansive rugby, have a good kicking game and build their performances on a solid platform laid by a big tough pack. But good though they are I really think that, even without the mighty JP and the exuberant Burgess, with the strike power and big game experience we have plus the motivational guile of Bluey we most certainly can and should win Saturday’s clash.
Looking back over my Rugby League watching history which started when I was a bright eyed 10 year old back in 1967 I have been at 10 of Leeds’s 11 challenge cup final appearances, 8 at Wembley, starting with the farcical 1968 final up to and including Saturday’s game. The best of them? The victory over St Helens (who else) in 1978 – the infamous John Holmes left foot drop goal final - or the 1999 victory over the London Broncos which in my view gave an early signal of the current golden era we are experiencing now. The worst? All the ones we lost (that’s 7 out of the 11!) were pretty difficult to stomach but I guess the 1971 loss to Leigh – Syd Hynes sent off and Alex Murphy hoodwinking the ref – was the worst by virtue of the fact that we were such strong favourites going into the game. Run close by the first of consecutive losses to Wigan in 94 and the losses to the Bull’s in 03 and Hull FC in 05!
You might think as you get older that the tension and stress would diminish. Not for me. Cup final day is always a day of drama and a rollercoaster of emotions. There are superstitions to follow, lucky underpants to be worn, certain foods to be eaten, drinks to be consumed and in the days of my youth I had to have been travel sick on the way to the game for us to be certain of a victory. (This rule stopped being applied to Wembley appearances when I moved to London in the 80s). This year’s dilemma? Do I wear my lucky 1968 all cotton shirt, The John Holmes memorial pink and blue shirt or the 1999 ‘legends’ shirt? I am edging towards the Holmsey option.
So roll on the big day, fingers crossed, lucky rabbits foot in pocket, green and black lucky 1999 socks at the ready and John Holmes charity shirt on my back (probably) it’s all on for a big Leeds win. I shall be watching with heart in mouth for a full 80 minutes I will be focused on every play, every kick, every pass and every tackle. The ghosts of relatives and friends who couldn’t make will be with us too – so lads do it for them, do it for us and do it for yourselves and for the club – Go Leeds Wembley awaits. Time to write another winning chapter in our proud history.