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SouthStander.com Wembley Preview
In less than twenty-four hours I'll be on the road to Wembley, among with tens of thousands of others, with everything crossed that the Rhinos can do the business and bring home the trophy that has been absent from Headingley for the last eleven years. With three Grand Finals wins in the last three years we could be excused for becoming complacent about our side, but I've shared far too much pain with my fellow supporters over the years to take victory over the Wolves for granted.
This will be my sixth Challenge Cup final following Leeds and on only one occasion have we been victorious, that great day in the sunshine in 1999 when Iestyn Harris raised aloft the famous old trophy. There were tears of joy on that day, falling on the same earth that tears of frustration and disappointment had fallen in '94 and '95 when we'd lost to Wigan, the undisputed team of the decade.
But my own will for a Rhinos Wembley win is eclipsed by my desire for the Rhinos to win the trophy for Dennis. Those of you who know me will know that I am a creature of habit, always standing in the same place in the SouthStand, the place that I have stood for the last twenty years. Dennis stands two feet from me. Over those twenty years I've got to know Dennis very well, we've kind of adopted one another, he's always positive, always expects a Leeds win and always has a big smile on his face. He's the paragon of a true supporter.
Dennis is now in his seventies and has over sixty years of watching Leeds under his belt, and over the last five years his one remaining goal has been to get to Wembley and see the lads lift the trophy again, and for five years he's been disappointed, each year getting seemingly more desperate. Tomorrow I have the honour of travelling to the game with Dennis, and sitting next to him as he fulfils his ten year ambition, to see the lads at Wembley again.
I'm sure that this story is being repeated in households all over West Yorkshire and while we all want the Rhinos to do it for us, we also want them to do it for loved ones, friends and family.
There will be those missing come saturday afternoon. Missing will be Leeds legends whose names have been written in Headingley folklore but who are no longer with is, except in spirit. Jamie Peacock and Luke Burgess, both of whom had certain Cup Final appearances snatched from then a fortnight ago at Castleford, will be high in the minds of the seventeen that Bluey trusts to take the field. The lads will want to do it for themselves, but also for their missing colleagues.
The nineteen man Rhinos squad is; Brent Webb, Scott Donald, Brett Delaney, Keith Senior, Ryan Hall, Danny McGuire, Rob Burrow, Kylie Leuluai, Danny Buderus, Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Ali Lauiti'iti, Kevin Sinfield, Matt Diskin, Greg Eastwood, Ryan Bailey, Ian Kirke, Carl Ablett, Chris Clarkson, and Lee Smith. Seventeen of these (I expect Scott and Carl to be the two to miss out) have the opportunity to write their names large in Rhinos history as the players who brought home the most famous trophy in the game after an eleven year absence to add to the Superleague Trophy already tucked away in the cabinet. A win tomorrow will ensure that this is remembered as the best leeds team of all-time.
The outcome of this game is in our hands. We've beaten the Wolves on both occasions that we've played them this season, 26-16 at Headingley in May and 37-30 at the Halliwell-Jones two months ago. The last time we lost to the Wolves was in 2008 and they've only beaten us three times in the last five years. The bookies have us as slight favourites but it is almost too close to call.
One hundred years ago Leeds drew the Challenge Cup Final against Hull (at Fartown in Huddersfield) winning the replay. All the pundits reckon that this could be as close with us going to a replay at Bramall Lane in Sheffield on the 8th September. I think that we'll get the business done on the day.
So come on our brave seventeen warriors. Do it for yourselves, do it for the memory of your forefathers, do it for JP and Luke, do it for friends, family and loved ones, do it for me, but most of all do it for Dennis...he deserves it!
Travel safe, have a great day, and keep everything crossed for a Leeds win as you sing your hearts out for the lads.