LEEDS RHINOS winger Tom Briscoe described playing in an epic Challenge Cup semi-final win over St Helens as a genuine “pleasure” after the stylish holders secured a return to Wembley yet again.
Friday’s 24-14 success at Warrington was widely regarded as possibly the greatest game of the 2015 campaign as the Super League leaders edged the champions in a classic contest.
Leeds will play Hull KR in the final on August 29 when, no doubt, they will hope to repeat their opening 20 minutes against St Helens which head coach Brian McDermott decreed as the best football his side had played during his five years in charge.
Their dazed opponents were unable to cope with the pace, verve and adventure of the West Yorkshire side, who dazzled at every turn and left Keiron Cunningham’s men chasing shadows with the accuracy of their superb off-load game.
Briscoe admitted: “It was fast out there. It was hard work that first 20 minutes. There wasn’t many breaks in play and both teams were really up for it.
“I suppose that’s what Challenge Cup semi-finals bring out and it was a pleasure to be a part of that. We paid for it Saturday – I was feeling it then – but the whole game was tough.
“Saints came back at us but I thought we managed that situation pretty well, too, and we went on to score some good tries ourselves.”
Rarely can a side have executed a running game so ruthlessly, Leeds constantly offloading and forcing the Super League champions to backtrack amid a swathe of pressure.
England winger Briscoe, who won the Challenge Cup with Leeds last year in his first season after joining from Hull FC, said: “It (offloading) is always something that’s been encouraged.
“I think the Leeds team is known to play some good football, have a lot of off-loads and make breaks from deep within our own half. This season it seems to have progressed further and we seem to be getting a lot of success from it.”
How the Rhinos were only 12-0 up after that opening blitz is remarkable but, admittedly, their rivals did rally well by scoring just before the break and then making it 18-14 heading into the hour mark. Briscoe, 25, said: “It was a difficult one. We seemed to have so much pressure but the scoreboard didn’t reflect just how much pressure we did have.
“That’s credit to St Helens; they are a great team and struck in there bringing it right back to four points so it’s credit to them to stick with us there and lift it up a notch when I suppose we were struggling. Yet, on the flip side of that, we were then able to defend our line and go score some more good tries.”
Briscoe looks instantly back to form and fitness after a successful return to the Leeds side following shoulder surgery in March.
He missed four months of action but came back with a hat-trick in the league win over Catalans Dragons that confirmed top spot heading into the Super 8s and was impressive once more in his second match versus Saints.
That, of course, has set up the final with Hull KR, which has added significance for Briscoe, who scored 90 tries in 147 games for their city rivals Hull FC.
“It will be an interesting one for me against them,” he smiled, before adding Rovers’ prolific Josh Mantellato – man-of-the-match in Saturday’s shock semi-final success over Warrington Wolves – and Ken Sio are two of the best wingers around.
“They have gone well and been good signings for Kingston Rovers this season. They seem to be getting them out of trouble a lot and making good metres.
“Hull KR are a good side and have put everything in to get to Wembley so they are going to make it tough for us.”
Briscoe, who was in the losing side for Hull in the 2008 and 2013 Challenge Cup finals, accepts Warrington could be even more dangerous on Friday when Tony Smith’s side arrive at Headingley for their Super 8s opener,
Leeds want to press on and complete an unprecedented club “treble” of League Leaders’ Shield, Challenge Cup and Grand Final glory.
“This season Warrington have got two wins on us so it’ll be a big match. We know it will be tough. They seem to lift their game against us and we’ve not played particularly well against them so we’ll have to improve from where we’ve been before,” said Briscoe.
Derek ‘Rocky’ Turner, the legendary former Great Britain World Cup-winning loose forward, has died at the age of 82.
He started his career at Hull KR, captained Wakefield Trinity to three Challenge Cup wins in 1960, 1962 and 1963 and coached Leeds to the 1972 Championship title having also managed Castleford.