Briers ready for biggest stage
It took Lee Briers 14 years to realise his dream of playing at Wembley and it has been an even longer wait to run out at Old Trafford, but the evergreen Warrington Wolves stand-off never stopped believing.
The 34-year-old former Wales international captain, who in August won his third Challenge Cup winners’ medal in four years, is aiming to get his hands on a first Stobart Super League ring when the Wolves take on defending champions Leeds Rhinos in Saturday’s Grand Final.
“I would have retired ages ago if I didn’t think we could get here,” Briers said.
“You always want to play in the big games and in the organisation we’ve got there are big expectations. We have an owner who had the vision and the vision is paying off now.
“It’s great playing on these big stages; it was a dream of mine as a kid. It ticks another one off before I finish.
“It’s been hard work to get here, though, and there is no point coming here and not performing. We’ve got to make sure we’re fully focused.”
Warrington claims to be one of the fastest-growing towns in the country and, after taking more than 20,000 fans to Wembley, the club expect an even bigger following at Old Trafford for their maiden Grand Final appearance.
They sold half their allocation of 23,000 Grand-Final tickets within 24 hours of last Saturday’s semi-final win over St Helens as fans clamoured to witness a slice of history.
“Rugby is a religion in Warrington,” said Briers, who was born and still lives in neighbouring St Helens but has been with the Wolves since 1998.
“It’s going to be massive but, until we walk out on Saturday and hopefully get the right result, we won’t know how big it is.
“We didn’t know how big the Challenge Cup was in 2009 until we won it.”
It is just six weeks since Warrington beat Leeds 35-18 at Wembley and they were even more convincing winners in the 2010 Cup final, but Briers knows his side are the novices this time.
While they aim to become the first team to do the double since St Helens in 2006, the Rhinos are seeking to lift the Grand Final trophy for the fifth time in the last six years and for the second successive year from fifth place.
“They’re the best play-off team in the history of Super League by a country mile,” Briers said.
“People said it was a fluke last year but they’ve proved that wrong. They are a quality outfit who know how to play this type of game.”
Leeds captain Kevin Sinfield has been at the heart of his side’s remarkable late-season exploits and his stand-off duel with Briers could go a long way to determining the outcome of the 15th Grand Final.
Briers is enjoying some vintage form and demonstrated he is a man for the big occasion with his Lance Todd Trophy-winning performance against Leeds at Wembley two years ago but he dismisses the notion that Saturday’s game will hinge on his clash with Sinfield.
“Will it heck,” he said. “Defence wins big games like this - we just get the plaudits.
“If my forwards are going forward, it gives me an advantage and I’m always confident in my pack.”