PROUD Leeds Rhinos head coach Brian McDermott said his squad is at the “foothill of something really special” following their record-breaking 50-0 Challenge Cup final defeat of Hull KR.
The holders were imperious as they retained their trophy with a crushing victory of Rovers at Wembley, Tom Briscoe scoring five tries in a remarkable effort.
However, they have quickly turned their attention to Friday night’s home game with champions St Helens – and the prospect of securing a win that would edge them closer to the League Leaders’ Shield and Grand Final glory.
Asked about the potential to complete an unprecedented treble for the West Yorkshire club, McDermott admitted: “It is going to be huge. We’ve the opportunity to do something special and are the only team that can do that.
“It will be a big thing to do but we really want to do it. I make no apologies for it; we want the League Leaders’ trophy, then to go to the Grand Final and win.
“To be at the pinnacle of your industry and to do what only a few teams and coaches have done is really exciting.
“It’s a great motivation to get out of bed in the morning and I’m just enjoying the ride; it might not get better than this.
“At the moment, we’ve a lot to play for and I wouldn’t dare compare this to previous sides, it would be silly. We’re at the foothill of something really special.”
Having ended their 15-year quest for Challenge Cup glory – after six successive final losses – with victory over Castleford Tigers 12 months ago, ruthless Leeds quickly added a second success.
“We’re a better side than last year at this stage,” added McDermott. “On reflection, I played down what the victory meant for the club. It was massive. We went into it trying to not lose seven and the anxiety was huge.
“That took a fair chunk out of us. You’ve got to play at Wembley to truly understand what it does to you and we managed the game (versus Hull KR) extremely well.
“The journey we’ve been on in the last few weeks compared to theirs probably showed. They’ve been playing some Championship teams in the Qualifiers while we’ve been in some really intense games.”
Saturday was a perfect Wembley farewell for Leeds captain Kevin Sinfield, Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai, who are all leaving at the end of the season
McDermott, who has also led Rhinos to two Super League titles since taking over at the end of 2010, said: “We never mentioned the retiring players before the game. That’s a surefire way to make yourself too emotional and too passionate and then make some errors.
“But you know one of the modern day greats (Kev) is here and what a fantastic story it would be to send him off. If we can do the treble, we all know how special that would be. And this team is hungry. Humble but hungry.”
Hull KR head coach Chris Chester was visibly upset by the chastening defeat, the biggest in Challenge Cup final history since the first was played in 1897.
On the sport’s 120th birthday, too, and in Rovers’ first final since 1986, it proved a massive let-down.
Chester, whose side only trailed 16-0 at the break, admitted some players “froze” with just three of their 17-man squad having featured in a Challenge Cup final before.
“The boys are pretty downbeat,” he admitted. “I told them to be proud of their efforts because it has taken a lot of hard work to get us to the final, but that performance was not a true reflection of Hull Kingston Rovers.
“Everything was too quick for us in that first 20 minutes. We got back in the grind, but second half we came out and dropped the ball four times and a champion side like Leeds don’t need a leg up.
“I think some of the boys were overawed on the big stage, but I am proud of the boys for getting us here.”
Former England captain Sinfield, 34, said: “I feel for Hull KR. I lost five finals so I know how tough it must be.
“I’d urge their fans to stick with them. I know how much hurt some of the guys in the dressing room are going through. My message to them would be to have some faith in where they’re going and what they’re doing.”
Leeds lost all four of their remaining league games after Wembley last year, including a sudden-death play-off exit at home to Catalans Dragons.
Sinfield, who switches to Yorkshire Carnegie at the end of the season, admitted: “I’m just happy to have two winners’ medals now so the kids can get one each but I still feel this isn’t the end.”
More on the final: Pages 6 & 7.