Unlike coaches that try and downplay the magnitude of certain games to ease the nerves of their players, Danny McGuire has urged the Hull KR squad to take note of how important Saturday’s Challenge Cup final is and what’s at stake.
McGuire is a man who knows what he’s talking about when it comes to running out at Wembley having won the domestic cup competition twice in his own career. Both times came with Leeds Rhinos, and in 2015 their final triumph was against none other than KR.
A humiliating 50-0 drubbing saw the Robins leave the capital with their tails between their legs that afternoon. More recently, they lost a 2022 semi-final in similar, though not as embarrassing, fashion to Huddersfield Giants.
But having gone one step further a year on, Leigh Leopards now stand between Willie Peters’ side and some major silverware.
Danny McGuire: ‘Realising it is a big occasion prepares you better’
In his own career, the former half-back made just shy of 500 appearances, winning eight Grand Finals with the Rhinos to add to those two Challenge Cup successes.
Having retired in 2019, now assistant to Robins’ chief Peters, Saturday will be the first time that he’s involved in a final without lacing up the boots.
Nevertheless, the 40-year-old has plenty of words of wisdom for the squad at Craven Park, as he told Love Rugby League during Monday afternoon’s media day.
McGuire said: “This week is different, there are lots of things that happen in this week that don’t in a normal Super League one, so I don’t live by that rule (of downplaying things).
“We’re making sure the players are ready and that they can adapt to these changes, but ultimately it’s about enjoying it as well. When you’re enjoying things, you tend to do things better, and you tend to play better as well.
“Realising it’s not the same, realising it is a big occasion and realising that it’s going to be a little bit different actually prepares you better. If you just think it’s going to be another game, then you’re going to get a shock.
“There are just so many things that are different in the lead up to the game, be it the national anthem or the time you’re in the tunnel, so many little details are different to a normal game. Making sure the players are aware of that means they shouldn’t be over-awed or overly anxious in those situations.
“Ultimately for them it’s about delivering on the day. There’s small moments in games, fine margins at times, and being on the right side of those little wins often determines which way the result goes on the day.”
Hull KR making every detail count
It’s not just the words of advice being given to the players to make sure that they are successful come Sunday.
Despite Peters’ illness-enforced absence on the training pitch on Monday morning, it’s expected that he will return tomorrow as Hull KR carry out their last training session prior to travelling down to the capital.
The Robins’ squad will have plenty of time to adjust to their new surroundings, staying over both Thursday and Friday night, and doing their captain’s run on Friday at an unnamed venue. They’ll also get the opportunity to check out Wembley on the Friday ahead of Saturday’s all-important showdown.
Detailing the week ahead, the assistant added: “We’ll train Wednesday, that’ll be our big day, and then we’ll travel down Thursday to train in London on Friday with an early captain’s run as normal. That way, the players get an opportunity to familiarise themselves with Wembley, get in the changing rooms and out on the field, becoming familiar with their surroundings.
“It’s gameday and business then on Saturday. It’s good for us because the lads get to spend a bit of time together, stay in a hotel and connect. It makes the week that bit extra special.
“It’s definitely important that you get to see it [Wembley] beforehand. [At Leeds in the past], we’ve done it where we’ve trained on Wembley before or even not trained there and just had a look around. There’s varying ways you can do things, but just being comfortable and getting used to all the different scenarios that can get thrown at you on the day is important.
“For me, you’ve just got to enjoy it. If you don’t get too caught up in things, and realise you are a part of one of the biggest games in the season, you’ll go and embrace that.”
Robins looking to make it third time lucky against the Leopards
While KR go in hunt of a first Challenge Cup triumph since 1980 on Saturday afternoon, the wait to lift the famous piece of silverware has been an even longer one for their opponents.
Leigh haven’t won it since 1971, and in truth, neither side have had a great deal to shout about in recent years when it comes to major honours.
The Leopards do though have the edge on the Robins this year, beating them twice already in Super League action, and McGuire acknowledged the importance of learning lessons from those games if Hull KR are to be successful this weekend.
He said: “I’m really excited for this week. In our semi-final celebrations, I got a bit excited, but I think it was because I know what a good week it is and I wanted our players to experience what a good week the one leading up to the Challenge Cup final is.
“I’m just looking forward to it, and we need to prepare as well as we can because Leigh have already beaten us twice, we’re not forgetting that.
“The first game, we lost it on the wire when they scored in the corner. I don’t think we had a great game that day, but it would’ve been one of those performances where you’re happy to win despite being disappointed how you’d played.
“We then never really got off the bus away, they dominated us, played really well, and have been in great form ever since. They’ve got really good players all over the park, but for us we’ll be as well prepared as possible, look after our own back garden, and then Leigh will definitely trouble you but you go and do your best. That’s all we can do.”