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Friday Interview - Kevin Sinfield: Sinfield and Rhinos taking relaxed route to Wembley

THE quest is no longer a quest. Or mission or crusade. And do not mention jigsaw pieces.

Leeds Rhinos would like to win the Challenge Cup but they insist it is not imperative and what has elapsed before is as irrelevant as a losing Lottery ticket.

It has been 11 years since the blue and amber club lifted the trophy, captain Kevin Sinfield then making waves as a promising tyro but not yet powerful enough to crash into the squad that vanquished London Broncos.

His only previous experience of Wembley had been as a wide-eyed nine-year-old watching home-town underdogs Oldham Athletic tackle Nottingham Forest in the 1990 Littlewoods Cup final and a couple of years later when he actually stepped on the hallowed turf in the curtain-raiser to a Challenge Cup final between Castleford and star-studded Wigan.

A young Sinfield, showing the talent that would eventually mark him out as one of the finest players of his generation, contributed a try and three goals as Oldham Schools beat a Dewsbury and Batley team including future England team-mate and present Bradford Bulls player Paul Sykes.

"I have got some good memories of the old Wembley but I've not got any of the new one yet," said Sinfield. "Hopefully, I will have some soon."

Sinfield and Leeds will reach Wembley if they can overcome St Helens in an intriguing semi-final at Huddersfield tomorrow.

Just as that great Wigan team of the late 80s and early 90s marauded through final opponents as if they were kids from those curtain-raisers, Saints have been similarly dominant, last season being the first time they had not won the sport's most famous knockout competition since 2005.

Thwarted Leeds have often been their victims along the way, losing out five times in their last six cup meetings, including a trio of semi-final defeats.

Sinfield endured all three of those heartaches, was in charge when the Rhinos fell to Hull FC in the dying seconds of Cardiff's 2005 final and, two years earlier, against Bradford although he was painfully dropped when the Bulls edged them in the 2000 final defeat at Murrayfield.

"In terms of the Challenge Cup, what's happened since the last time we won it has been a bit of disaster," conceded the England star, the shock 2007 semi-final exit inflicted by Huddersfield fresh in the memory. "I've made two finals and got beaten in one by a point and another by two.

"Of course it hurts and our approach – certainly over the last three or four years – has been too hyped up and too much of a crusade. Our whole approach this year, though, has been different."

There has been a relaxed attitude throughout their campaign. Delve back to interviews ahead of the fourth round win over Hull, or the subsequent success against Blackpool and the last-gasp quarter-final victory over Wigan and every Leeds player is in unison – they are not obsessed about making this THE year.

Sinfield, in his 14th campaign at Headingley having overseen three successive Grand Finals triumphs, refuses to be mesmerised by the Cup.

"We've probably listened to people in the media and our own fans too much," he says.

"We hear them saying 'we've done Super League and we want to go to Wembley'.

"Well, that's all well and good but previously we've not dealt with it in the right way.

"We've tried to learn some lessons from that and tried a different approach. Whether it works or not we'll see. It has done so far and, hopefully, that will continue."

The fact Leeds have been able to rise to the occasion and succeed so consistently at Old Trafford in October, defeating St Helens in each of the three grand finals, makes the absence of a Challenge Cup triumph all the more bewildering.

Sinfield, 29, who won the Harry Sunderland Trophy with a towering display in last season's rain-sodden Manchester showpiece, says: "They'll probably say we win in the wet and they win the dry but I don't know.

"We've a lot of respect for Saints and what they've done over the last 10 years. It's become a great battle. Hopefully, there'll be another on Saturday."

Sinfield, who has captained Leeds since the age of 22, should revert to his usual loose-forward role tomorrow, having recently filled in at half-back during Rob Burrow's injury absence.

When asked would hoisting the Challenge Cup on August 28 mean more than a fifth Grand Final winner's ring – he also led Rhinos to their first Super League title in 2004 – there is a genuine perplexed look.

"I couldn't answer that," admitted Sinfield. "I don't know because I've never won it. I think it's really difficult to say how good something is until you have.

"I can tell you how good Super League is but I've failed miserably a couple of times with the Challenge Cup.

"I think Keiron would be in a better place to answer that one."

The Keiron he refers to is, of course, Cunningham, the outstanding veteran hooker who, having won seven Challenge Cup finals with Saints, is the polar opposite to Sinfield and Leeds.

As the Saints captain counts down the weeks to his planned retirement, there is a sense it is inevitable he will bow out in fairytale style with an eighth.

Sinfield will let others speculate about that; he simply intends on relaxing with 'que sera sera' his mantra.

 
 
 

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