The Rhinos travel to Wembley as the biggest underdogs since the Sheffield Eagles in 1998. A straw poll of the bookies (who are rarely that far off the mark) shows the Rhinos as 7/2 to win the famous old trophy with Wigan odds on favourites at 2/9. Leeds are getting a twelve point start on the coupon. The shortest three odds on the first try scorer are all Wigan, as are the three favourites to lift the Lance Todd Trophy. Basically no-one gives us a prayer of getting anything out of this game.
Brian McDermott has once again rolled the team selection dice and gambled heavily that Watkins and Ablett will both be fit enough to take the field come 2:30 on saturday afternoon. They are both named in the nineteen after picking up knocks at the Harlequins last saturday meaning that there is no room in the squad for the unlucky trio of Hardaker, Pitts and McShane. It is a big gamble by the Rhinos coach which leaves us with no room for error.
The nineteen on which we are pinning our hopes are; Webb, Smith, Delaney, Hall, McGuire, Burrow, Leuluai, Buderus, Peacock, Jones-Buchanan, Ablett, Sinfield, Lauiti'iti, Bailey, Kirke, Watkins, Hauraki, Clarkson, and Jones-Bishop. Should Ablett and Watkins be fit then I'd expect the two who will have to mask their disappointment will be Smith and Lauiti'iti. If the coach decides to play two players carrying knocks then it will be shades of the disasterous 2005 final where an unfit Senior was chosen over a fully fit Barrie McDermott, and we paid the ultimate price.
Brian McDermott isn't that stupid, is he?
The Warriors are supremely confident. Wigan will gradually empty over the next twenty-four hours as the entire town descend on the capital to cheer their side to their inevitable victory which will see them with all the major prizes in the game safely tucked away in the DW Stadium trophy cabinet.
Coach Maguire is keen to leave the Warriors at the end of the season with all the major honours under his belt, and this is the one that he is missing.
Maguire does have some long term injuries in Cross, Tuson and Fielden, the last one being a particular disappointment for Leeds fans as the ex-Bull tends to have a nightmare against us. The Wigan coach rested Mossop, Coley and Finch last friday night but it made little difference to his all conquering side as they demolished the Bulls in the perfect build-up match. Hansen, surprise surprise, got through his disciplinary on tuesday night unscathed!
The Warriors nineteen is; Tomkins. S, Goulding, Carmont, Richards, Deacon, Leuluai, McIlorum, Coley, Hansen, Tomkins. J, O'Loughlin, Prescott, Lima, Hoffman, Finch, Mossop, Farrell, Charnley, and Hock.
Without doubt, the Warriors side is stronger on paper but there are plenty of Rhinos with the experience of missing major trophies under their belts. Sweep aside the pessimism and defeatism, and forget recent form, and we could be for a belter.
Three Warriors we'll need to stop;
So, it's a foregone conclusion, why are we bothering going?
We've played Wigan twice in Superleague this season. In the first game at Headingley we dominated for sixty minutes and looked like securing a famous victory before we lost our heads and let them back in for a 22-22 draw. We travelled to the DW on the 1st July and lost by a narrow 24-26 in a hard fought game where we could consider ourselves unlucky not to come away with the points. In 160 minutes so far this season we are separated by just two points, do we have the measure of the Warriors?
The last time that we beat the Warriors was just under a year ago when we went to the DW as the whipping boys in the play-offs and took a famous 27-26 victory, although it did cost us Danny McGuire to the vengeance of the Rugby League Gods!
We've only played the Warriors twice in Challenge Cup Finals, losing both games back to back in 1994 and 1995.
This will be my eighth Challenge Cup Final as a Leeds fan with a shocking record of won one, lost six. I expect to lose cup finals.
I can do nothing but follow the bookies, pundits, journalists and neutrals and go with a Warriors win. But stranger things have happened in our great game. Look at Sheffield in 1998 or Hull FC six years ago.
The Leeds players have nothing to lose, and the Wigan players will have already cleared a space in their sock drawer for their winners medal. There is no doubt that the Rhinos can win this game, but it is a 1 in 10 shot and will need a sensational Leeds against an occasion frozen Warriors.
The weather forcast for tomorrow is pretty good with temperatures in the mid teens and only a 20% chance of rain.
Two sets of M1 roadworks have been lifted for the bank holiday weekend but there is still a road widening scheme with contraflow around Luton to be careful of, but there are not expected to be long delays.
I hope that you all have a good journey and a fantastically enjoyable day. I'll have everything crossed that the lads can bring the silverware home, so if you see me at Wembley, that's why I'll be walking funny.
Enjoy the day and be safe.