Peacock aims for greatest triumph

Jamie Peacock makes his record-breaking 10th Grand Final appearance tomorrow night but admits once thinking he may never even reach Old Trafford with champions Leeds Rhinos.

They are seeking a fifth title in just six years when they face Warrington Wolves in the Manchester showdown.

Peacock, 34, has been at the heart of Leeds’ rise to being Super League’s dominant force, having earlier helped arch-rivals Bradford Bulls to three titles.

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However, the ex-England captain concedes there was a point where he thought even just one could be beyond them.

When asked if, in 2001 when he made his first Grand Final appearance with Bradford, he could ever imagine reaching double figures, he replied: “Even after five (in a row) at Bradford, if you said I’d go and play another five Grand Finals with Leeds in seven years I’d think ‘you’re kidding’.

“The way the competition had evened up – and the way we bombed out in 2006 – I thought it was going to be difficult to probably even get back to Old Trafford again.”

Peacock moved to Headingley at the end of 2005, having just captained Bradford to a Grand Final victory over Leeds, making history as they became the first side to do so from outside the top two.

But in his first season with his home-town club, they suffered their worst finish in four years and fell at the first play-off hurdle, losing at home to Warrington.

Leeds bounced back in emphatic style by winning three successive Grand Finals against St Helens (2007, 2008, 2009) and, after taking another from the unprecedented position of fifth last term, there is now no question of the Rhinos’ standing as the greatest club in the summer era.

If Brian McDermott’s side are to remain as champions they must equal last year’s remarkable achievement of doing so from a fifth place finish.

However, Peacock believes any success tomorrow would be his greatest Grand Final feat yet given the arduous nature of the West Yorkshire club’s entire campaign.

He explained: “If we’re going to win this one this time, this will be the biggest out of them all.

“First of all, we had to peak to win the World Club Challenge at the start of the year which is difficult in itself. But we’ve also had more three-game weeks than anyone.

“We had the most people involved in Origin’s England v Exiles games and had to back-up then.

“After backing up at Easter we had to do the same again the following week for the extra game due to that World Club Challenge.

“We peaked for that, then got to the Challenge Cup Final and when it comes to the play-offs we’ve had to beat a resurgent Wakefield coming in with a wet sail.

“We came from behind to beat them at home. We then had to go to Catalan which, with no disrespect, the same time last year we had to go to Huddersfield and they’d gone. Catalan hadn’t. To beat them away was fantastic.

“Obviously, to beat Wigan away last week, too, was an unbelievable achievement. If we were to go on now and beat Warrington it would be the greatest out of them all.”

Warrington won the Challenge Cup final against Leeds six weeks ago but he insists that will have little relevance tomorrow night when their opponents – who finished second in Super League – make their maiden Grand Final appearance.

“It’s a different game,” said Peacock, who won the Challenge Cup twice with Bradford against Leeds in 2000 and 2003.

“I just think the Challenge Cup is totally different to the Grand Final. You can get three easy draws to reach the Challenge Cup final; there’s no easy draws to get to the Grand Final.

“To finish top, you have to play really well all year, pounding it out all year, and, if you finish outside of the top four, you’ve got to play very well away from home against great opposition.

“You can get lucky in the Challenge Cup but that element is taken out of it all for this; it’s about quality and playing well in the big games.”

Some critics will argue Leeds winning the title from fifth for two years running would not be beneficial for the sport’s integrity.

However, the esteemed front-row insisted: “I just think how hard it is to win it from fifth, it’s actually good for the game.

“I think that’s an achievement in itself, an Herculean effort to get there from outside the top four.

“You can rightly be called worthy champions. The only side we’ve not beaten this year is St Helens.

“I think the top eight in the play-offs is too many but we have too many clubs to start with.

“If you’ve got 14 teams then six should be the number. If it goes down to 12 – which we should have – then it should go down to five again.

“It should be difficult to get into the play-offs. People will say the Aussies have a 14 team comp’ with eight play-off places but they’ve had 10 different winners. They have the strength in depth.”

James Graham – tipped by many to replace Peacock as England captain – has been hit by a 12-game ban for biting Billy Slater’s ear.

Graham, who is in his first season with Canterbury Bulldogs, was accused by the Melbourne full-back following a fracas during last Sunday’s NRL Grand Final, which the Bulldogs lost 14-4.

He will now miss England’s autumn internationals and the start of the next NRL season while hopes of landing his country’s captaincy must also be in doubt.