Briscoe on double mission to help Rhinos to elusive Wembley glory

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YOU could understand Leeds Rhinos’ possible thinking when Tom Briscoe and Liam Sutcliffe were put up for interview ahead of today’s Tetley’s Challenge Cup fifth round tie with St Helens.

An obvious reason for their selection is that neither has been tarnished by the club’s famously painful recent history in the sport’s most prestigious competition.

Tom Briscoe.

Tom Briscoe.

Unlike so many of their team-mates, neither England winger Briscoe nor his impressive young colleague Sutcliffe have been involved in any of those six agonising final defeats since Leeds last won the Challenge Cup in 1999.

So, then, unlike Kevin Sinfield, Rob Burrow, Danny McGuire et al, they would not have to answer any of the same inevitable and mundane questions about how a side so clearly brilliant at winning the Super League title could fail so often when Old Trafford is swapped for Wembley.

It would, therefore, save vast discomfort not only for players, so tired of being reminded about that strange anomaly but journalists, too, who are jaded about posing the same predictable line of enquiry.

However, that was not the case.

“I think my story fits in with that really – I’ve been there twice and lost the final twice,” reminded Briscoe, having suffered defeat with Hull against Wigan last August and, also, versus St Helens in 2008 when he was barely 18.

“I’m aware of the story here at Leeds. It is remarkable they haven’t won it yet. The amount of silverware that’s come through this club and players played here, it is pretty incredible.

“Some of the senior boys that have been at the club haven’t been able to achieve the one trophy that still eludes them.

“But I’d love to be a part of that group to finally achieve that and to be alongside those players when they do. It’s certainly something I want to achieve within my career at this club.”

Briscoe – 24 and established as one of Super League’s top wingers – essentially swapped Hull for Headingley in a bid to win silverware. The signs that he will achieve that are promising; vibrant Leeds are top of the table while, if they can progress this afternoon, they would only be two steps away from another trip to Wembley.

Indeed, Leeds’ solitary defeat this year came in a narrow 14-10 loss at St Helens last month.

Saints were usurped from first place, though, following a poor Easter which harvested zero points from games against Wigan and Widnes Vikings but Briscoe maintains that does not mean they are now vulnerable.

“Certainly not,” he said, ahead of the Headingley contest that has all the potential to serve up a classic feast of cup rugby.

“That was just a blip. Coming on the back of that, they’ll be ready and raring to go, really wanting to bounce back and give themselves more incentive to come here and beat us again.

“Saints will want to put their season back on track with a good win. Likewise, though, for us, playing the way we did against Saints and losing is another incentive to get one back over them.

“If we’re going to go all the way to Wembley and win it, we’ve obviously got to beat the top teams. There’s no better way to start than St Helens.”

One of the main sub-plots of this afternoon’s televised heavyweight battle is the intriguing tussles out wide.

Everyone is aware of Ryan Hall’s innate talent, the prolific Leeds winger once rated the best in the world, and people are well-versed on Briscoe’s ability, too. But Tommy Makinson has suddenly blossomed for Saints, the 22-year-old leading the Super League try-scoring charts with 12 following a series of stunning finishes that have earmarked him as a potential international. Adam Swift, 20, is just what his very name suggests – and strong, too.

“It’s great for the game that young English players like them are succeeding,” said Briscoe, with both backlines heaving with domestic talent.

“It shows the youth system with Saints is working well. One-handed finishes seem to be his (Makinson’s) trademark and we’ve certainly done our homework on them both.

“There’ll be some great contests out there.”

Briscoe, of course, is not guaranteed a place such is the depth of quality at Brian McDermott’s disposal.

The talented Ben Jones-Bishop is another option to the Leeds coach and such competition seems to have brought the best out of all the club’s three-quarters.

Briscoe, who has scored eight tries in his 10 outings so far, is desperate to right the wrongs of last year, though, when Hull were dismal while losing 16-0 to Wigan at Wembley.

“It was obviously a massive disappointment the way we played and the performance we put in on such a big stage,” he said.

“It was a tough defeat to take. If we look back we were never really going to score. We just didn’t turn up and nothing went our way.

“But it’s all in the past now. I’m looking forward, at a new club and looking to succeed here.”

Ironically, Briscoe was in the Wembley stands when Saints last won the Cup in 2007 against Catalan Dragons.

“I wasn’t supporting either of them!” he said with a smile.

“I just went down just to experience Wembley with my family but the following year I was playing there so it was pretty strange.

“It’s driven me on ever since, though, to go back and win it.”