CONFIDENT Castleford Tigers coach Daryl Powell says he can “see it in the eyes” of his players they can cause a Tetley’s Challenge Cup final upset today and he wants to make the club a mainstay of future showpiece events.
He leads them at Wembley today for the first time since their loss against Wigan in 1992.
The West Yorkshire club face Leeds Rhinos, fierce derby rivals who have won six Grand Finals and played in three of the last four Challenge Cup finals.
Of course, Leeds have lost all of those and six in total since their last win in 1999 when Powell, ironically, played stand-off in a record-breaking 52-16 triumph over London Broncos.
They are desperate to end that run this afternoon but Powell – who coached Leeds from 2001-2003, putting in place many of the systems that led to their eventual Super League domination – is adamant his side are capable of adding more misery.
“I think they’re fine,” he said, when asked about their readiness after yesterday’s final team run at Wembley.
“Preparations have been great. We’ve been pretty calm all week and even the back end of this week the training performances have been good. I really think they are ready. I look in their eyes and just see a group of people who are ready to take the challenge on.”
Castleford, joint-third with Leeds in the league, have exceeded all expectations this season having finished 12th last term.
But there is no sign of their remarkable rise slowing and he envisages them making more such finals in the future.
“That’s the plan,” he said. “You look at the team and the club and we have to work hard to develop everything we’re about.
“I think the mentality of the group is that way anyway. If we keen maintaining the way we go about our business then I think we will be fighting on all fronts.
“It’s that consistency as a club that we need to find.”
It is only the sixth Challenge Cup final in their 88-year history and the first time they have met Leeds in the final.
Powell’s biggest decision is deciding whether to pick Craig Huby, the prop who dislocated his elbow in the semi-final win over Widnes Vikings just 13 days ago.
A key player in their ranks, he took part in the final session yesterday and Powell said: “Huby has trained okay. Obviously they’re not bashing each other around there but he’s done a fair bit of work this week.
“He’ll have a fitness test in the morning. We’ve got to give him as much opportunity as he needs. He’s important for us but I’m pretty confident he’ll be okay.
“It’s me and him who will decide. He’s got to be confident he can deliver his best performance and, if he tells me he is and I see him do a couple of things in the morning, then we’ll go with that.”
Meanwhile, all eyes were trained on Leeds hooker Paul Aiton at yesterday’s traditional Wembley Walkabout.
The Papuan is due to be among the replacements today despite his former club Cronulla Sharks’ involvement in a doping investigation that has rocked the sport in Australia.
Newspaper reports Down Under claim 14 former or current Cronulla players have agreed to accept a back-dated 12-month suspension, beginning yesterday and ending in November, but Aiton – who was at the Sydney club during 2011, the period in question – has turned it down.
However, Leeds’s management say they have heard nothing official and McDermott said: “Paul’s good.
“That’s all they are, reports. At no stage has our club or the RFL had any contact. WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) haven’t contacted the player. Paul’s not even part of the investigation.
“It is just reports in a newspaper, which is the industry we live in. People say things which sometimes are not true.
“Paul’s just getting ready for a game and we’re getting ready for a game. I think it will be a tight one. We are bracing ourselves for a tough old fixture.”
McDermott, in charge when Leeds lost to Wigan in the 2011 final and again a year later to Warrington, expects Huby – who will join Huddersfield Giants next season – to play.
“I think he has got a chance,” said the coach.
“He has dislocated his elbow, which to your average man in the street means a couple of months off.
“But they will strap it up and put some injections in it.
“He’s an important part of what they do, so it would not surprise me.”
Two-page preview of today’s Challenge Cup final at Wembley: Pages 6-7.