Castleford Tigers boss Daryl Powell reckons all the pressure is on opponents Leeds Rhinos ahead of Saturday’s Tetley’s Challenge Cup final.
While the Tigers have not won the competition since 1986 and have not appeared in the final since 1992 the Rhinos have lost six finals since they last lifted the cup in 1999 – ironically when Powell was a Leeds player.
Despite winning six Super League titles in the last decade the cup has eluded the current Leeds team, but they are starting as favourites to end their hoodoo – and that is the way Cas head coach Powell likes it.
He said: “I think the pressure’s on them, there’s no doubt about that.
“There’s no pressure on us, I don’t think anybody expects us to win apart from us and our camp.
“I think our supporters expect. They’ve watched us all year and they believe in what we’re about. But everybody else expects Leeds to win and they are the favourites.
“The pressure’s on them because they’ve lost their last six finals. Just because you’ve lost six doesn’t mean you’re going to win the seventh and that’s our job to make that happen and to heap the pressure on them as the game gets going.
“We’ve got to play like we have in the big games this year when we’ve been exceptional.
“When you go into games you are not expected to win you can pretty much relax and I think that’s the way we’ve been.
“We had a couple where we’ve got rattled around the Challenge Cup, but other than that we’ve taken some beating this year. We’ve challenged Leeds twice. They were a little bit too good for us in the first game in the second half, but we weren’t too far away and we haven’t been too far away from most teams this year.”
Powell wants his players to remain calm.
He said: “It’s very difficult to treat this as just another game, but you need to recognise that what you do on the field is the be all and end all.
“For everybody else they can enjoy the occasion, for us it’s work. We can enjoy if afterwards, but ultimately it’s about delivering a performance. I don’t see any reason in getting too attached to all the hype that surrounds it.
“I just think we need to stay calm. I think we did that for the semi-final.
“For me the big job this week is to give the players a plan that they’ve been outstanding at applying all year and try to keep them nice and relaxed.
“We’re pretty relaxed so far, we had Wednesday off and then we’ll train and travel down there.
“We’re just looking forward to the challenge. These are the games that everybody wants to play in and I know from my personal experience that they can be special times in your career.”
Rhinos boss Brian McDermott took the confident step of naming his side at a media event on Monday, but Powell will not reveal his hand just yet, especially as he is waiting on a final fitness check on key forward Craig Huby following the dislocated elbow he suffered in the semi-final.
He explained: “I will give him (Huby) as long as he needs.
“It’s obviously not the best injury, everybody saw that he dislocated his elbow. It would be a big recovery, but rugby league players are tough.
“The player, the medical team, you have a look at everything and everybody needs to be comfortable with what we’re doing.
“If Craig’s not available we’ve got plenty of people who can take that slot, but he’s an important player so we’ll make that decision later in the week.
“Millo (Grant Millington) will be out. His injury is a little worse than we first thought. I’m hopeful he’ll be back for play-off time, but we’re not certain at the moment. But other that we’re okay injury-wise.
“I know what the team is and the players know pretty much.
“There were a few decisions to make, but they lean heavily towards the players who are going to be in there. They are not tricky. A tricky decision was leaving Danny Mags out of the 2003 Challenge Cup final. He knows why I did it, but it wasn’t the best thing I’ve every done in terms of the communication.
“He’s used it as a stepping stone for him across his career. I think Kevin Sinfield also got left out of one early in his career.
“Somebody’s got to miss out. It’s very tough and for a coach the early part of the week is very difficult to deliver the message, but ultimately you are doing it for the right reason for the team and, so long as you’ve got the right people at your club they’ll know even while they still find it tough.”