Hull KR v Leeds Rhinos: Peacock plans to show he’s still on top of his game

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TWELVE months on from finally realising the Challenge Cup dream with Leeds Rhinos, Jamie Peacock has revealed the pressure on his side then was like nothing he has experienced before in his glittering career.

Considering the totemic prop has led both England and Great Britain against the revered Australians, and featured in countless finals before, it says plenty.

Leeds Rhinos' Jamie Peacock salutes the fans after his team's 24-14 win against St Helens

Leeds Rhinos' Jamie Peacock salutes the fans after his team's 24-14 win against St Helens

However, Leeds did, of course, defeat Castleford Tigers at Wembley, ending that infamous sequence of losing all six finals in which they had played since last winning in 1999.

The stress ahead of today’s return as the holders face Hull KR will be markedly less.

“I’ve never gone into a final with as much pressure on us,” recalled Peacock ahead of the last of his seven Challenge Cup final meetings before retiring.

“I spoke to you (media) guys saying there was no pressure on us but there was and we were all feeling it. We didn’t speak about it as players but I could tell just by watching people.

Jamie Peacock with the fans before the Leeds Rhinos team bus leaves Headingley for the Challenge Cup final at Wembley.

Jamie Peacock with the fans before the Leeds Rhinos team bus leaves Headingley for the Challenge Cup final at Wembley.

“I remember the bus on the way there and normally ours is pretty relaxed but it was the most serious I’d ever seen – so I started taking the mick out of a few people to try break the ice a little bit.

“I think there was some false laughing out there! I might have won a few over but you could see how much pressure there’d been with the relief on some players’ faces afterwards.

“If we’d have lost that and gone into this, the pressure would have been incredible. But, as we won, it isn’t.”

Nevertheless, Peacock is the sort of competitive warrior who cannot contemplate defeat, even if Leeds are priced at 1-5 favourites to retain the crown they had battled so long to gain.

He concedes he has spent some time this year recollecting his glorious past deeds in the knowledge his career will end in a few weeks’ time, hopefully with a ninth Grand Final win at Old Trafford on October 10.

“I’m pretty lucky really as I’ve the safety net of thinking if I don’t win everything and it doesn’t all work out, well, I’ve still had a good career anyway,” he offered, Leeds currently top of Super League and striving for a treble.

“That’s the only reason why I’m looking back on what I’ve done.

“But these are my last few games. I know that. I put a sign up in my bathroom that says ‘How do I want to be remembered?’

“Now that’s not by the people watching but those I play against.

“What’s the last feeling of playing against me they will get – facing an old man on his way out or a player on top of his game?

“I want it to be someone at the top and it’s given me extra motivation in all these matches.”

The most nerves came before the Challenge Cup semi-final against St Helens that set up today’s decider knowing there would be no last Wembley hurrah if the West Yorkshire club failed.

It reminded him of his last days as Bradford captain in 2005 before he switched to his hometown club, when the Bulls had to win every game in the play-offs to be crowned champions.

They did and they were but life was on a knife-edge throughout, in the knowledge his Bradford career could be over in 80 minutes.

With rich irony, his farewell Wembley appearance comes against the club he will join in December as football manager.

Understandably, there has not been much dialogue with Hull KR chairman Neil Hudgell of late.

Peacock, 37, added: “When I got the job (in March), it was mentioned we could meet here now but it’s just one of those things.

“I said to him I wish him all the best but not during the week of the cup and he said exactly the same to me. We’re both determined people and want to be successful but, unfortunately, one of us will be a loser come Saturday.”

Peacock, who has completed a masters degree in sports business, hopes to help create the same sort of sustained success with Hull KR as experienced at Leeds.

“I wanted a job where you could be challenged,” Peacock explained. “You lose a lot of challenges when you finish playing professional sport so you have to find them elsewhere and a job that presents them.

“I think that’s what I’ve gone out and done. Leeds were good enough to offer me a job but it’s that well run I’m not sure what the challenges would be, with the greatest respect to the Rhinos…

“I want to go work somewhere where I can make real impact and I’ll live or die by the sword.

“Meanwhile, this last week has been like when you’re breaking up from school for Christmas and it’s seven days away – but feels like seven months!”