New lease of life for the underdog

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The Independent Online

Nobody in this weekend's Powergen Challenge Cup semi-finals has a final pedigree quite like that of Robbie Paul, who has rediscovered a new zest playing for a team few expect to get there this time.

Paul appears for Huddersfield against Leeds at his old home ground of Odsal this afternoon. During his Bradford career he appeared in five finals, lifting the cup twice, winning the Lance Todd Trophy and scoring an unprecedented hat-trick of tries in one of the defeats.

He does not recall using the phrase "new lease of life" when he switched to the Giants for the start of this season, but that is what he has found.

"It has something to do with how successful that side was at Bradford," Paul says. "From one to 17, we had international players. You could have the occasional game off and they would cover for you.

"At Huddersfield, everyone is young, learning and hungry, pushing each other all the time," he adds. As a senior player of 30 at the Giants' Galpharm, he has unearthed much of his old exuberance. "I'm enjoying myself. The big thing is that I get to play the position I enjoy playing."

By that he means half-back, after a last couple of years with the Bulls when his main value seemed to be as a part-time hooker. There is less temptation to do that with him at Huddersfield, partly because of the compelling form of the club's regular No 9, Brad Drew.

"He's been our most consistent player all season long," Paul says. "He's a real character of the game and an angry little man. He's stronger than someone of his size has any right to be but, like Jason Robinson, he has very dense muscle. I love playing with him for the way he leads the team around the field."

If he and Drew can lead Huddersfield into their first Challenge Cup final since 1962, Paul believes the impact on the town will be dramatic. For all their steady improvement in Super League, the Giants are only slowly winning over a disillusioned public, but Paul says that will all change if they get to Twickenham.

"It would be absolutely massive," he says. "You could compare it to the feeling when we got to the final in 1996 with Bradford. After that, we were expected to be successful, but that first time you have a special hunger."

Paul knows that his present side are long-odds underdogs this time, but he finds that a refreshing change in itself. One player whose fitness could affect those odds, however, is his opposite number for the Rhinos, who has been struggling with a shin injury.

"I'm a big Danny McGuire fan. He can score tries from anywhere on the field and his footwork is amazing. If he doesn't play, it will be a big loss for them, but they have an international- class team. No matter what team they put out, we'll be preparing to face Leeds at their best."