Leeds Rhinos v St Helens: Garbutt relishing the biggest game of his career

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MOST of the Leeds Rhinos squad who face St Helens tonight for a place at Wembley have seen it all before.

The majority of them featured when lifting the Challenge Cup there last August, some having had three, four or even five painful defeats in the decider before that defining afternoon.

Leeds Rhinos' Mitch Garbutt makes his way to the line against Catalans Dragons for the maiden senior try of his caree (Piicture: Steve Riding).

Leeds Rhinos' Mitch Garbutt makes his way to the line against Catalans Dragons for the maiden senior try of his caree (Piicture: Steve Riding).

They have also amassed copious amounts of Grand 
Final winners’ rings and victorious World Club Challenge medals between them, too.

Yet for Leeds’s Australian prop Mitch Garbutt, the Challenge Cup semi-final against Warrington at a heaving Halliwell Jones Stadium in Warrington will be his most notable rugby league occasion yet.

He only arrived in England from NRL club Brisbane Broncos the day after Rhinos’ quarter-final success against Hull FC last month and has played just three times off the bench with them.

However, such has been the 26-year-old’s instant impact that he is set to be included again in this pivotal fixture as the holders seek to take the penultimate step towards retaining the trophy.

“I haven’t played in a game of this size before” said Garbutt, whose looming 17-stone presence will be crucial against a Saints pack including such behemoths as Mose Masoe, Alex Walmsley and the fit-again Atelea Vea.

“It is something I’m very excited about and it can’t come quick enough. Once I got off the plane and I heard it was something we were going to be playing in, I started looking forward to it.

“It will be the biggest club game I have played in, without a doubt.”

If Leeds, the Super League leaders, do succeed against champions Saints for a third time this season, it would leave Garbutt all set for a Wembley appearance on August 29 in what could be only his eighth game in this country.

“Playing in the final would be special, but we are just focusing on this one first,” he added.

“It is going to be a very tough game; Saints are a very, very good side. We aren’t looking at the results against them in the league.

“That’s not the mindset of anyone in the team. Nobody thinks playing St Helens is going to be a walk in the park, but we are going into it in good form and that’s something we wanted to do.

“Over the last few weeks there’s definitely areas we need to improve in, but we are there or thereabouts.

“We are playing decent footy without setting the world alight.”

Brian McDermott, a front-row of some repute in his own playing days, could look upon the mid-season signing as a lucky omen given the club has not lost since Garbutt’s first inclusion, a 46-18 win over Saints four weeks ago.

Tonight’s game is expected to be far tighter given their improvements since – they sit second just a point behind Leeds heading into the Super 8s – and whoever prospers may need a touch of good fortune to settle a contest the bookmakers believe could be decided by only four points.

“The team’s been going well - as they have all year,” added the former Melbourne Storm prop.

“It’s such a top-quality side, with some great players. I am excited to be able to play with them.

“We know every game now is big and we are excited about that. It is going to be a very, very tough few weeks, but it is exciting.

“We are going all right, but obviously we want to improve and we will keep working hard to try and do that.”

Garbutt – who spent four hours trying to find his way home after losing his way in his first week in England – added: “I am loving it here so far.

“It’s a great city, great fans and the players and staff are world class. My family have settled in really well and we’re finding our way around now and not getting lost, so that’s good.”

Garbutt will go into the semi-final buoyed by his try in last Sunday’s win over Catalans.

That was the first senior touchdown of his career and he said: “I was very lucky. I was in the right place at the right time and I got a good ball off Kev (Sinfield), but it was good to score.”

Sinfield, of course, is looking to end his glorious Leeds career on yet another high.

The legendary captain, who passed 500 games for the club in April, joins Yorkshire Carnegie at the end of this season.

Fellow great Jamie Peacock also retires and leaves to become Hull KR football manager.

Few inside the sport would begrudge the famed duo having another Wembley success as part of their send-off, although Saints hooker James Roby – their former England colleague – is an exception and hopes to ruin all that.

“Hopefully that script goes out of the window,” he said.

“They’re greats of the game and they deserve every accolade or achievement that they’ve got throughout their careers.

“But we’ll be doing everything we can to get our names at Wembley not theirs and give ourselves the chance to put our names in the history books instead.”

Roby, tipped by many to be Man of Steel this term, faces an intriguing battle with Leeds’s Paul Aiton, the Papuan who has struck some stellar form himself in the middle of the Rhinos’ pack.

“I think he’s been playing fantastic this year and as a fellow 
No 9, he does a lot of tackling and attacking,” said Roby.

“It’s definitely a position that takes a lot out of you so he must have good endurance and stamina to do it.

“Then you’re mixing it with the big lads as well, so you have to be able to hold your own.

“But Paul is a great player and he can hit a bit too.

“He’s got a good shot on him, so it’s a strength of his and every time I see him he’s improved as a player, especially this season.

“But hopefully I’ll outplay him on Friday.

“We always seem to play well at Warrington and it’s probably a bit of an advantage that it’s not too far away from us. But Leeds know what it takes to win big games.”