Long wait for Wembley is over for unlucky McGuire

DANNY McGUIRE admits he has endured so much misery in the Challenge Cup he felt it was inevitable Leeds Rhinos would never win the famous competition.

The livewire stand-off was axed for the 2003 final despite being the hero in the game that got them to Cardiff while he did make the side that lost the showpiece two years later only to lose in a dramatic finish against

Hull FC.

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There have been painstaking semi-final losses as well, all of which have left the England international believing Leeds would never add the prestigious trophy to their four Super League titles and two World Club Challenge successes. Until maybe now.

"I've never hated the Challenge Cup – I love the competition because of all its history – but I just thought it wasn't destined for us as a club and as players to achieve anything in it," McGuire said, ahead of Saturday's Wembley final against Warrington Wolves.

"There has been the curse of the Challenge Cup for us. I don't think we've approached it any differently to Grand Finals and it's no shame to lose to Saints in semis as they're a great team who won the cup three years in a row.

"That takes some doing – 15 consecutive matches – but Warrington then won it last year and it has given everyone else a sniff.

"It'd be nice to change all that with Leeds this week."

McGuire, 27, proved the hero in this season's semi-final victory over St Helens, popping up with his second trademark poacher's try late on to wrestle back control and give his hometown club their first Wembley appearance since 1999.

The East Leeds product was there suited up that day as part of the club's Academy squad as Rhinos defeated London Broncos for their first cup success in 21 years but has not yet visited the new stadium.

"I could have gone to Leeds United's play-off final against Doncaster but turned down the ticket," said the ardent Whites fan.

"I made a stupid little rule that I wanted to experience it firsthand (as a player) and every year we lost I kept thinking 'I should have taken that ticket.'

"But luckily it's come around now."

Unlike seven years ago, there is no chance he will be overlooked for the main event given the ruthless finisher is now arguably as influential as captain Kevin Sinfield or talisman Jamie Peacock.

"It was heartbreaking in 2003," he recalled, after Daryl Powell omitted him from the bench for the 22-20 loss against Bradford in favour of Rob Burrow – a fellow tyro then but long-term half-back partner ever since.

"I shed a few tears but it made me appreciate the good times a lot more.

"In all fairness, I just didn't expect it after what happened in the semi. That was more the shock – you sort of know if you're on the cusp or not in that situation and I thought my place was nailed on but I suppose nobody's safe."

It will be another East Leeds lad in 20-year-old Chris Clarkson fretting over his place this time while Sinfield suffered a similar fate in 2000 when he was left out of the 17 for the loss against Bradford in Edinburgh.

McGuire conceded Leeds did not give Hull the respect they deserved in 2005 but that will not happen against Warrington.

"Warrington know what it's like to win and savour victory, similar to us winning the Grand Final three times on the bounce," he said.

"They'll be determined to keep hold of that cup and we'll have to really work hard to take it off them. The big, open spaces at Wembley suit us down to the ground but they like to throw it around too and it's all set for a great final."

McGuire, who has scorched in for 23 tries this season but also matured into a more organisational role, will be up against one of the finest stand-offs around, in the form of mercurial veteran Lee Briers.

"He's a great player," he admitted. "He's not had the recognition he'd have liked internationally but he is quality.

"I toured with Briers in 2006. I'd not met him much before but we played togeteher in a warm-up match and I was just unbelievably impressed by him.

"He ended up only playing that match though and then going home. I probably kept him out, but he's class."

Someone he knows far better is Warrington full-back Richard Mathers, a former Rhinos team-mate and childhood friend at East Leeds who will be best man at McGuire's November wedding.

"I went to tea at his the other day but made him have the first mouthful so he didn't poison me," he laughed.

"I watched him eat it and then tucked in. It was weird last year as I was cheering Richie on when he scored at Wembley.

"I wanted them to win and him to do really well but it's turned full circle and all I want now is a Leeds victory."