When Shaun Lunt arrives at Wembley this weekend, it will not be via the conventional route. For one thing, he is with Leeds but not of Leeds, thanks to the unusual situation of playing a Challenge Cup final while on loan from his parent club.
For another, while most of his team-mates on Saturday were working their way through the Rhinos' highly structured and productive development pipeline and getting their first opportunities in the Super League side, he was working as a plumber in his native Cumbria.
"I suppose I was a bit of a late developer," says the 25-year-old hooker. "My dad played semi-pro for Carlisle, so that was always my aim – to be a professional rugby league player."
It all seemed to be going according to script when Castleford signed him and his brother, Rob, as teenagers, but, after one season and four first-team games, he was released.
It was back to West Cumbria, a part-time playing contract at Workington Town and a day job fixing malfunctioning toilets and cisterns.
"It taught me a lot," he says. "It taught me I didn't like working. I don't think anyone does, really. I'm glad I did it, though, because it made me appreciate what has happened since. There's no way I'd take it for granted.
"When I'm driving to training in the morning, I see lads setting off in their vans and I think that could be me."
Lunt's rugby career could also have drained away in the Co-operative Championship, were it not for his own persistence. He was an outstanding player at that level, winning the competition's young player of the year award three years running, but he hankered after a second chance in Super League. He made his own highlights DVD and circulated it to clubs. For most of his three seasons back on the North-west frontier there was no response, but eventually the steady drip, drip, drip wore them down.
"I just kept asking for a chance and, in the end, Huddersfield bit," admits Lunt. He was an immediate success at the Giants, playing and scoring a try in the 2009 Cup final, a defeat at the hands of Leeds' Wembley opponents this year, Warrington.
The following season he won his one England cap, so it was a surprise when he began to slip down the pecking order at Huddersfield this year. Basically, the Giants had an embarrassment of options in his specialist position.
Both Luke Robinson and Tommy Lee had come to be regarded primarily as hookers and when Huddersfield also signed Scott Moore from Widnes Lunt knew that he would have to look elsewhere for regular first-team rugby.
"Nothing against the club or the coaches, but I'm not a teenager and I need to be playing first team," says Lunt. What he did not expect was that his chance would come a few miles up the road with the Rhinos. "When you go out on loan, you expect to go to a lower club, not one as big or bigger," he says. "You also don't expect to go to Wembley with them."
At Headingley, Lunt has formed an increasingly fashionable compare-and-contrast hooking partnership with Rob Burrow.
"Rob is a fantastic player who always makes an impact. We're very different in the way we play, but that seems to work well," Lunt says.
Whereas the diminutive Burrow is all about pace and elusiveness, Lunt majors on some other aspects of the role, notably his try-scoring ability near the line, his strength as a runner and – appropriately in view of his one-time employment – his energy in mopping up any leaks in defence.
Provided Burrow is fit again after a calf injury – as he is almost certain to be – the two will divide the duties at Wembley. What might not be known until shortly before kick-off time is which of them will start and which will be on the bench.
The Leeds coach, Brian McDermott, who decided on this change of direction in mid-season, is giving little away on that score. "I've got some good options," McDermott says.
For Lunt, it has been the luck of the draw that has brought him this close to a second Wembley appearance. When both Leeds and Huddersfield made the last four of the Cup, he knew that if the two sides ending up opposing each other in the semi-final or final that would automatically rule him out. Fortunately for him, the Giants were drawn against (and then knocked out by) Warrington, another club that operates a highly successful double act at hooker.
"They are a contrast as well," Lunt says. "Michael Monaghan won the Lance Todd Trophy [for man of the match in the Challenge Cup final] and he's a great organiser. While he's been out, though, Mickey Higham has been starting games and playing some fantastic football – probably the best of his career."
Given that the service from dummy-half is as fundamental to modern-day rugby league as the serve is to tennis, the 2012 Challenge Cup could well be won and lost by the contributions of the four hookers.
Only one of them, however, plays by virtue of having been loaned out as surplus to requirements. "I've still got three more years on my contract at Huddersfield," says Lunt. "But I'm not thinking about that this week."Reuse content