THE road to Wembley does not get much sweeter for Hull KR assistant coach Willie Poching – but he knows this weekend’s trip to Leigh could quickly remind the shock Challenge Cup finalists things can also soon turn sour.
Poching helped mastermind a famous semi-final victory over Warrington Wolves on Saturday, the club he left after four seasons’ service last year.
That stunning success set up a Wembley meeting on August 29 with another of the Samoan’s erstwhile employers – Leeds Rhinos – as Rovers seek to win the famous trophy for only the second time in their 123-year history.
However, during the interim, there is the significant matter of saving their Super League status given the East Yorkshire club finished in the bottom four.
Due to that they face, among others, the Championship’s leading quartet in a battle for a place among the elite in 2016.
Leigh, Championship league leaders for the last two seasons, have already defeated Super League’s Wakefield Trinity and Salford Red Devils in the Challenge Cup this term to show their class and potential for a move up.
They host Rovers on Saturday having not lost at home all season and Poching is fully aware of the threat they pose.
“The Challenge Cup final is a little way off yet and we have some tough games ahead of us,” he told The Yorkshire Post.
“We are in a position now where we’ve got to look to next year, too.
“Leigh away on Saturday will be very, very tough. They have been the runaway standard-setters in the Championship and to go to their place first up will be difficult. It’s a totally different type of football, but we need to have some of that steely resolve and focus we showed against Warrington if we are going to win over there.”
Poching had been Warrington coach Tony Smith’s deputy since the end of 2010 having also played under and coached with the Australian at Leeds, the ex-Wakefield second-row initially winning the 2004 Grand Final and World Club Challenge a few months later.
However, he switched clubs last autumn with Rovers’ head coach Chris Chester saying the highly-respected 41-year-old would be his “best 2015 signing”.
The pair have worked well together to take KR to the brink of a first Cup success since 1980.
After the 26-18 semi-final victory over Wolves at Headingley, he insisted: “I don’t take comfort from who the opposition was; my concern has always been and always will be for this team.
“I’ve watched them grow since November and not only as men but as a group and team.
“I’ve seen how they’ve bonded, gelled and come through some of the tougher times in the year so this (Wembley) is fantastic reward for them.
“There was some tense moments on Saturday so good on them for fighting those and coming out of the other side.
“Those sorts of moments enable you to grow as a team; you can win by 60 points but those are the ones that really galvanise you and educate you in how to play.
“They have shown what they are capable of and I’m really happy they get to enjoy such a magical occasion; not everyone does.”
Poching did, albeit at Cardiff when Leeds lost the 2005 Challenge Cup final to Hull FC, although he did taste success at Wembley as Warrington assistant against the Rhinos in 2012.
That defeat continued Leeds’s long run of Challenge Cup final heartaches, a sequence they finally ended 12 months ago when beating Castleford Tigers.
However, they have added reason to retain their crown with legendary trio Kevin Sinfield, Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai all either leaving or retiring this year.
Poching, who was Rhinos’ assistant from 2006 to 2010 overseeing three successive Grand Final wins, was impressed with the league leaders as they defeated St Helens in Friday’s other semi-final.
“We saw then just how dangerous they are,” he said.
“At the start of the game they were outstanding and Saints did a great job to stick with them as well as they did given Leeds would have blown most teams apart.
“There’s some dangers across the park and they know how to play in the big games. They are calm, composed and have some leaders who are bowing out at end of the season so they have some reasons to play for them.
“We’ll find our own motivation and, as much as you say otherwise, the Wembley game will be at the back of our minds for the next few weeks.”
Meanwhile, Rovers prop James Green faces the RFL disciplinary tonight for a Grade C shoulder charge on Wolves’ Gene Ormsby.
If found guilty and hit with a maximum three-game ban, his first match back will be Wembley.