Leeds Rhinos desperate for Challenge Cup success
Richard Mathers has some wonderful memories of Leeds' Challenge Cup final exploits but he will be doing his best to deny his old club a third consecutive trip to Wembley when he returns to Headingley with Wakefield for tomorrow's fourth-round tie.
The 28-year-old full-back helped the Rhinos to the first of their five Grand Final triumphs in 2004 but it is 13 years since their last cup final success and Mathers says they are desperate to end their wait.
"I can't underestimate the importance they place on the cup," said Mathers, who was in the Leeds side pipped by Hull in the 2005 final in Cardiff before going on to play for Gold Coast, Wigan, Warrington and Castleford.
"It's the one piece of silverware they haven't won since 1999. They've won five Grand Finals but this is the jewel in their crown that is missing and I know how highly they place it.
"They are a world-class team and, because they are very desperate to win the cup, it makes them even more dangerous."
Mathers left Leeds in 2006, initially to try his luck in Australia's NRL, but succeeded where his old team-mates have failed when he won the cup with Warrington in 2009.
He was also in the Wolves team that beat the Rhinos 30-6 at Wembley 12 months later to retain the trophy and extend Mathers' extraordinary record in rugby league's famous knockout tournament.
Mathers' loss with Leeds in 2005 remains his one and only defeat in the competition. He missed Wigan's quarter-final exit at the hands of Leeds in 2008 through injury and was also absent when Castleford lost to the Rhinos in last year's semi-finals.
"I can't believe it's seven years since I last lost in the cup," he said. "I've been very fortunate to win two and I played in another final where we just got beat.
"It's a great competition. My early memories of rugby league are of the cup. I vividly remember everything about the '94 and '95 finals between Leeds and Wigan.
"We went to my grandma's house and decked it out in blue and amber. I remember them as massive family days and they made me fall in love with the game."
Although now committed to Wakefield, where he is on a season-long loan from Castleford, Mathers still has a soft spot for Leeds and is looking forward to once more running out at Headingley.
"I love going back," he said. "It's my home-town club and it's close to my heart. Right from leaving school I played there and I had some success there.
"It's a special club from top to bottom."
Wakefield are seeking their first Challenge Cup win over Leeds since 1942 - they have lost 11 consecutive cup fixtures to their west Yorkshire rivals since then - but Mathers insists the Wildcats will travel to Headingley with genuine hope.
"It's an old cliche but in the cup everybody has got a chance," he said. "We are underdogs and, if we're speaking honestly, we probably deserve to go there as underdogs.
"There are only two major competitions in British rugby league and they are both of equal importance.
"We want to win the thing, like everybody else. It's quite nice to put the league to bed for one week. There are different emotions because, if you lose, you're out and there is that trapdoor mindset."
The Rhinos' clash with the Wildcats is one of four all-Super League fourth-round ties this weekend.
St Helens meet Widnes at the Stobart Stadium on Saturday and on Sunday neighbours Hull and Hull KR host Huddersfield and Catalan Dragons respectively.
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