Hall eyeing double glory
Tetley’s Challenge Cup final hero Ryan Hall is confident there will be no Wembley hangover when Leeds Rhinos return to First Utility Super League action on Friday night with a home game against leaders St Helens.
After ending their 15-year wait to lift rugby league's famous knockout trophy with a 23-10 win over Castleford Tigers, the Rhinos have set their sights on becoming only the fourth team in the modern era to complete the league and cup double.
Bradford Bulls and St Helens both pulled off the feat when five months separated the Cup final from the Grand Final while Hall says Leeds will be drawing inspiration from the feat of Wigan Warriors, who successfully backed up last year's Wembley triumph with a win at Old Trafford six weeks later.
"We're in touching distance of doing the double," said Hall, whose two blockbusting tries at Wembley won him the Lance Todd Trophy as man of the match.
"It's tough and it takes a champion side to do it. Wigan were that champion side last year and hopefully we can learn from them and emulate them."
Victory over Saints would take Leeds to within two points of the leaders with two rounds left of the regular season and Hall believes his side are well equipped to avoid a repeat of 1999, when they followed up their previous Cup final victory with a 62-18 thrashing by St Helens.
"I think we've got the right backroom staff to get us in the right shape, so no I don't think so," said Hall.
"(Chief executive) Gary Hetherington was quick to come in and address us all and emphasise that we've still a job to do in the league. We've got some tough fixtures, starting with St Helens on Friday.
"Obviously we've won it from fifth but it's a lot nicer to do from the one of the top positions so we've got that in our sights."
St Helens captain Paul Wellens, who was in the team that not only did the double in 2006 but finished top of the table, is not expecting Leeds to be a soft touch like they were 15 years ago.
"I used to really enjoy the challenge of it," Wellens said.
"You're certainly on a high after winning the Challenge Cup but, looking at the Leeds squad, what makes them a successful team is their experience.
"They know what's required in any given situation. They will have enjoyed the weekend but know when it's time to get back to work. We're preparing to play Leeds at their very best."
Hall goes into the game needing one more try to bring up 200 in his career, which would underline the Rhinos' claim to have the world's best winger, a title St Helens coach Nathan Brown is not about to dispute.
"I'm not saying he's the best winger but I haven't seen one better," Brown said.
Hall responded: "That's really nice coming from a coach who is so knowledgeable about the game. I hope he's not trying to butter me up for an easy game on Friday."
Second-placed Wigan, meanwhile, go to Widnes Vikings looking to get their title charge back on course after winning just one of their last three games.
The Vikings are clinging to eighth place despite winning only three of their last 12 matches and, with the chasing pack breathing down their neck, the stakes are high.
"I know Widnes have earmarked this as a must-win game," Wigan coach Shaun Wane said.
"It has the makings of a real tough encounter. It's a really important game to put ourselves in a position to win the league leaders trophy."
Hull KR could leapfrog Widnes into the last play-off spot on Friday night if Denis Betts' men lose their last home game of the season and they complete a hat-trick of derby wins over Hull FC at the KC Stadium.
It will be Rovers' first match since Chris Chester was confirmed as their head coach and the last Hull derby for captain Josh Hodgson, who is moving to the NRL with Canberra Raiders in 2015.
"There'll be mixed emotions between nerves and excitement for me but it's a massive game in our season," Hodgson said.
"It's going to be emotional. It's my last derby for a while and possibly my last one ever if things go well for me in the NRL.
"I'll be doing my best to win it and I'm sure the fans will be wanting us to make it 3-0 for this year over them as well."