AMBITIOUS Wakefield Trinity Wildcats coach Richard Agar sees no reason why his side cannot avoid relegation and win at Wembley for the first time in more than 50 years.
It is a bold claim considering his side sit in 11th spot but, ahead of tomorrow’s Tetley’s Challenge Cup game with Leeds Rhinos, he reckons it is achievable.
Agar’s thoery is that a raft of Super League teams will exit at this initial fourth round stage and – despite just two Super League wins so far – has always been confident in his own side’s ability to be safe of a top-flight spot.
“Staying in Super League is the priority, but I think we can manage both,” he said. “I think we can win the Challenge Cup and stay in Super League.
“Is there a club in Super League that thinks they can’t go win the Challenge Cup?
“There’s five all-Super League fixtures, so that’s going to put five out straight away.
“Win this weekend and you could find yourself on a nice run to the semi-finals quite easily and once you’re in a semi-final it’s on the day and it’s anybody’s.”
Agar, who was assistant at Hull FC when they famously defeated Leeds in the 2005 final at Cardiff, said: “I don’t think you can underestimate the Challenge Cup.
“It is the most famous cup competition in the sport and the rewards at the end are massive, once in a lifetime if you’re lucky.
“There’s no occasion like it – we have got an extremely tough draw, but we want to give it our best shot and we think if we get our performance right on the day we can turn anyone over.”
Trinity have lifted the trophy on five occassions but the last time was back in 1962-63 when the great Neil Fox was to the fore.
They could have done with his class last week as Wakefield were embarrassed 44-6 at Hull KR.
Agar has tried to idenitify reasons for that pitiful display, especially given his team have put more than 50 points past London Broncos and Catalan Dragons in recent weeks and scared leaders St Helens too.
He highlighted basic attitude and, so, will expect that to be far different tomorrow.
Leeds, of course, seem cursed in recent years when it comes to this competition, having lost all six finals they have featured in since their last victory in 1999.
Current coach Brian McDermott has overseen two of those final defeats – against Wigan in 2011 and Warrington Wolves the following season – and does not pretend that it is not high on the agenda for a club who have won six league titles in the same period.
“We want to get through to the Challenge Cup final,” he said.
“I don’t think that is a secret, it is a goal of ours. Ultimately we would like to win it, but to do that – especially in the later stages, the semi-final and final – we are going to need to beat very good teams.
“It just so happens in this round we are doing that – we are playing a very good team and a very attacking team.
“Wakefield are no slouches and their coach Richard Agar has proved he has the ability to get a team up for a certain fixture.
“He knows how to get his players to punch above their weight. I rate him on that and I am sure he will be pulling out all the stops this week to make sure his team come up with an upset.”
While Wakefield have stuttered this season, Leeds have been forceful and suffered only one loss, an intensely fought 14-10 defeat at St Helens eight days ago.
McDermott has more options available tomorrow with the return of Exiles centre Joel Moon, prop Ryan Bailey – after being dropped and then played at Hunslet Hawks last Sunday – and Mitch Achurch, while stand-off Liam Sutcliffe is included in the 19-man squad after being recalled from a loan at Bradford Bulls and Ben Jones-Bishop drops out.
Granted, Leeds have lost England second-row Jamie Jones-Buchanan after he tore a bicep at Saints and Paul Aiton misses out on a return to the club he left last autumn as the hooker is still recovering from illness.
But England winger Ryan Hall makes his 200th appearance for Leeds, who make the short trip as clear favourites.
Wakefield could give a ‘second’ debut to Richard Moore, the prop they re-signed from Leeds at the end of last season but who has been struggling with calf and hamstring injuries so far.
England Knights winger Chris Riley is cup-tied and has returned to parent club Warrington Wolves, but Agar says he may return later in the season.