Rhinos are not obsessed by Cup – Sinfield

THE pursuit of Challenge Cup glory is no longer an obsession for Leeds Rhinos but that does not mean their drive for success is diminished.

Captain Kevin Sinfield admits his side used to burden themselves with unnecessary stress in the bid to end their long wait for glory in the game's most famous knockout competition.

It has been 11 years since they last lifted the trophy and for a Leeds side that has won four Super League titles – three consecutively since 2008 – and delivered two World Club Challenge victories in the interim, their failure to conquer the cup has proved frustrating.

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If they are to do so this year they must today overcome a vibrant Wigan Warriors side who are also threatening their domination of the league given their position at the top of the table, nine points clear of the champions.

But ahead of the quarter-final at Headingley Carnegie, Sinfield concedes there has been a change in tact for Leeds which he hopes will result in a change in fortune.

"I've been close before," he said, having lost out in the 2003 final against Bradford and two years later at the hands of Hull FC.

"But I said before the Hull (fourth round) game this year that this isn't a crusade for this group of lads.

"We just want to do well in the competition. That's the best way.

"In previous years we probably put too much pressure on ourselves but we're just looking forward to the game.

"We want to do well but whether that's more than any other player at any other side still in it, I don't think it is.

"Everyone wants to win the Cup but Saturday's the toughest game we could have."

That is not necessarily a bad thing for Leeds. At the start of the season, through injuries and a lack of form, they may have laboured but in recent weeks they have shown signs of re-discovering their best and, importantly, have done so when the opponents have been of the highest quality.

Consecutive Super League victories against high-flying Warrington and Bradford have primed them perfectly for the challenge of Wigan.

"Up until the Warrington game we hadn't beaten anyone in the top four this year, " added Sinfield.

"Certainly with teams above us we were struggling against – and to be fair teams below us as well.

"The Warrington game was a big one and then Bradford were in fourth so to back it up was good for us.

"We just need to keep improving. We're pretty far off the finished article but as soon as we hit our straps we'll be very difficult to beat."

Wigan, Cup kings for eight consecutive years before St Helens broke their monotonous hold in 1996, have not savoured a victory themselves since 2002.

Flying at the top of Super League under the astute leadership of Michael Maguire and with the likes of England stand-off Sam Tomkins in mesmerising form, they are just as determined to end their barren spell.

Sinfield, 29, admitted: "They're the best side in the competition at the minute.

"Wigan have lost two games all year. Michael Maguire's come in and done a terrific job with much the same squad that has been there for the past couple of seasons.

"For whatever reason they didn't quite make a final recently but they were always there or thereabouts – in Super League and the Cup – but Maguire coming in has seen him change one or two things and made them pretty ruthless."

England loose forward Sinfield was a frustrated spectator when an injury-ravaged Leeds fell at Wigan back in March.

But those early-season stutters are now behind them and with, only scrum-half Rob Burrow injured and Brent Webb suspended today, and a possible return for England captain Jamie Peacock, it should be a far truer test of each side's credentials.

Sinfield praised Leeds coach Brian McClennan for the way in which he steered them through those troubled times and was pleased to see the Kiwi end speculation about his future by agreeing a new deal until 2011 earlier this week.

"I think at the start of the year we were a big scalp and still are," he said.

"But, for whatever reason, we didn't turn up at some matches and got beaten by some sides who really deserved to win.

"Bluey played his part in turning that around and making sure we continue to work really hard in the right areas and the right direction.

"Over the last few weeks he's led us well and I'm looking forward to the future under him."

Eighty minutes this afternoon will help decide whether that future involves an imminent appearance at Wembley.

If Leeds continue in their relaxed approach, they may just have enough to go a step closer.