Widnes Vikings’ Sporting Director Terry O’Connor will be hoping his knowledge of Rugby League’s biggest occasions will pay dividends in the run up to the Blackpool showdown with Batley Bulldogs on Sunday.
A former Great Britain prop forward, O’Connor played in a host of major cup finals throughout his career and he’ll be sharing those experiences with the Widnes players as the Cheshire side seek to retain a trophy they’ve won twice in the last three years.
“I’ve had a lot of experience of playing in finals and I’ll be emphasising to the players what they need to do to be successful on the day.
“We’ve got an outstanding coaching team that will have us thoroughly prepared but hopefully I can help when it comes to giving the side a psychological edge.
“It’s about stressing the importance of good defence and how that will lay the foundations for good attack and chances that will win you the game,” added Terry who also played 11 times for Ireland in a glittering top flight professional career that spanned 16 years and ended with his hometown club of Widnes.
“Players want to be remembered for winning silverware and you’re a long time retired,” added O’Connor “so it really is a case of making the very most of these opportunities and we have identified retaining the Northern Rail Cup as one of this season’s key objectives.”
Widnes’ travelling support, expected to number as many as 5,000, will also play a crucial role on the day according to O’Connor: “That will be massive. They have a major role to play and I don’t think that supporters always fully appreciate how their positivity, or negativity, can transmit itself to the players. They are undoubtedly the 14th or 18th man.”
The Bulldogs, coached by O’Connor’s long time front row adversary Karl Harrison, will present a tough challenge as he explained: “Karl is out and out Rugby League to the core and he’s really given them a tough edge although Batley has always had that determined and dogged spirit about them.
“One of my first ever games for Salford in 1991 was at Mount Pleasant and I remember their siege mentality even then. It’s an admirable feature of their game.
“That said both teams have been inconsistent this season and the three games between the sides so far have all been interesting encounters. There was the hard fought 30-30 draw in the early stages of the Northern Rail Cup and, in the Co-operative Championship, we were 24 points up at half-time at their place and nearly had the scare of our lives in the second half as they ate into our lead.
“We’ve lost seven games this season in the league and that is just not good enough although five of those have been by eight points or less. It’s been a strange season for a lot of coaches with far more injuries than normal and we’ve already used over 35 players this season but that is no excuse.