LEEDS RHINOS’ captain Kevin Sinfield last night spoke about this evening’s Ladbrokes Challenge Cup semi-final with St Helens and its importance not only for his club but the good of the sport.
The famous competition breaks with tradition by staging a last-four game on a Friday for the first time, BBC2 televising live the fixture at Warrington (8pm).
It is a perfect opportunity for rugby league to pitch to potential new viewers given in-form Leeds are the cup holders and their classy opponents are reigning Super League champions.
Furthermore, the West Yorkshire club are top of the table, just a point ahead of second-placed Saints with the crucial Super 8s getting underway next week.
Both sides are playing some stylish football and former England captain Sinfield told The Yorkshire Post: “It’s always important we continue to grow and inspire as a sport.
“It’s fantastic that we have such a great slot on prime time television – 8pm, BBC 2 on a Friday night – going out to a national audience. It’s up to both teams to go and put on a brilliant show and hope plenty of viewers do tune in to see it unfold.
“These semis have always been Saturday or Sundays for us so it is a different experience.
“You never know what these games will throw up, but we’re looking forward to it. It’s always going to be a tough semi when you’re facing St Helens and, for the neutral, it should be a great game to sit down and watch.
“We hope to send our fans home happy, too, as they’re also going a little bit further than the Saints supporters to see this.”
Sinfield, of course, helped Leeds end their long, painful quest for the Challenge Cup when they defeated Castleford Tigers at Wembley last August.
The decorated stand-off had lost all five previous finals in which he had featured with them, Rhinos’ prior success being 1999.
Record-breaking Sinfield, who has also led Leeds to six Grand Final wins and a trio of World Club Challenges, insists that high has not lessened their desire to return to London and lift the prestigious trophy again.
Indeed, the 34-year-old, who retires from the sport at the end of the season when he joins Yorkshire Carnegie, could make yet more history by guiding Leeds to a first ‘treble’ of League Leaders’ Shield, Challenge Cup and Grand Final glory.
“All we’re focused on is Friday,” maintained Sinfield, the fourth-highest points scorer in the sport’s history.
“It’s a cliché but true; Saints are too good a team to not respect. We are in a good position – I’m aware of that – but there are some real tough fixtures coming up in the 10 weeks ahead. We have to be right on the money every week in all of them to get the best out of each game.
“We need to get through Friday first and, if we do, then fingers crossed we’ll see what happens.”
It is the sixth time Sinfield has led Leeds into a Challenge Cup semi-final against Saints, their rivals victorious in 2001, ’02 and ’08, Rhinos succeeding in 2003 – when he nailed a last-minute touchline conversion to force extra-time – and 2010.
St Helens have not won the trophy since that 2008 campaign, but he added: “They’ve been building nicely. I watched their game against Warrington and they played really well.
“James Roby’s been brilliant for the last four or six weeks and they could rest him last Friday.
“He’s a big part of what they do with Luke Walsh and Travis Burns in that midfield triangle.
“We expect to see the best of Saints and know how dangerous they can be especially when you think of the history we’ve had together over the years.
“And then you consider who they are coached by – Keiron Cunningham and those others from our semis of the early 2000s (Sean Long and Paul Wellens) – so we know what’s coming.”
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