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McDermott and Maguire prepare for battle

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George Riley George Riley | 12:44 UK time, Thursday, 25 August 2011

The two most recent Super League champions - and their two intense coaches - go toe-to-toe on Saturday for rugby league's most coveted trophy.

Leeds Rhinos v Wigan Warriors is also Brian McDermott v Michael Maguire - two blood-demanding leaders in their first Challenge Cup finals as coaches.

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson attended Wigan training on Wednesday as Maguire finalised his preparations for Wembley.

The Australian is renowned for his attention to detail and the work ethic he has instilled in the Super League champions. If any of his players were in any doubt as to the magnitude of the occasion, they are not now. I'm told Ferguson gave them a big lift.

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Both Maguire and McDermott may share a fierce work ethic but they are very different in their approaches.

Maguire is the kind of man who will turn to the great Sir Alex for an extra edge. His attention to detail will involve replaying every part of a game in which he saw a weakness and repeating the drill at training until he is happy with the amendment.

McDermott can favour shock tactics of a different kind. He cancelled his side's pre-season warm-weather training camp in Cyprus and took them to a hostel in north Yorkshire. His approach at former club Harlequins was similar.

The Quins boys tell me how McDermott reacted to one disappointing home defeat at the start of last season by making the players train in the dark, straight after the game.

Having expected to be at home with their families, every single player in the squad was crawling through a muddy assault course and repeating a series of tackling drills on each other. This was then repeated at 6am the following morning. The smell of the training gear afterwards still haunts them.

Both coaches are young. At 41, McDermott has the experience of playing in and winning a final for Bradford against Leeds. The 37-year-old Maguire's only experience of the final came last year, when his chairman, Ian Lenagan, took him to Wembley to familiarise himself with an occasion in which he would take centre stage just 12 months later.

Both coaches have also attracted criticism, Maguire for introducing a perceived negative defensive breed of rugby league into the British game, while McDermott has mostly received flak from his own fans throughout an indifferent Rhinos season.

But what do the players make of the two coaches? I've spoken this week to Wigan's Pat Richards, Harlequins star Luke Dorn and the person who kicked Leeds to Wembley, Rhinos captain Kevin Sinfield.

Richards tells me Maguire is the best coach he has worked for. "He is very particular," says Richards. "His work ethic is second to none and his hard work has changed the mentality at Wigan. In his first training session, he sent us out for a three-mile run and we repeated it the next day. We were a little shell-shocked but he has done a great job."

Maguire is the kind of coach who feels every tackle and takes every carry during a game, in much the same way that Ferguson can be seen levering himself off the bench to head a ball when he watches United put over a cross.

McDermott, who is just as intense and instils the same kind of work ethic as Maguire at Leeds, has been likened to the hugely successful football manager Guus Hiddink by former Quins charge Dorn. "He will come in a pick up a team and improve, just as Hiddink did at Chelsea," says Dorn. "The problem he had at Quins was that period of adversity was prolonged so we hit a dead end."

McDermott is also a coach who focuses on his own motivational speeches. But do the players, in their own zone in final dressing-room moments before walking out to Wembley, even hear what the coach has to say?

"Yes, you do listen to it," says Sinfield. "The coach is very important, even though you are focused and going through your own mental preparation.

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Every coach has valuable words to say, sometimes at the start of the week, or just seconds before you go out. Mac normally comes out with something pretty special. I don't think he'll be trying too hard to inspire or motivate, though, as the final does that for itself."

Richards describes Maguire as "laid back but with a temper". If you step out of line, he makes sure you know. "He moans when it is warranted and there are no mind games. We all know where the line is - and if we step over it we are out of the team." Richards says the Australian is a good man-manager and tries to get to know the players socially while maintaining the professional barriers.

Refreshingly, neither coach will be using the "it's just another match" cliche in keeping his players focused on the prize. They realise what is at stake. Maguire has encouraged every Wigan player to soak up an opportunity that does not come around often.

McDermott himself told me this week: "It is absolutely not any other game. It is the biggest fixture on the calendar and up there with any sporting pinnacle."

So what about the men themselves? What will their approaches be, and how will they deal with the occasion?

Maguire admits he will be nervous and excited. He will, however, be safe in the knowledge that if his overwhelming favourites produce their trademark watertight defence at Wembley, then there is little chance they will lose.

If Wigan stop Leeds from playing, then Sam Tomkins, Josh Charnley, Richards and Thomas Leuluai will do the rest.

McDermott says he won't sleep the night before. "Someone might have to tap me on the shoulder and give me a reality check to remind me I'm at Wembley," he says. "There's a fair chance I'll miss the occasion as I'll be too caught up in it. So I do hope I get to bask in the Wembley experience as I'm humbled to be there."

The Leeds coach disagrees when I suggest the Rhinos require something special to win. In fact, he disagrees quite passionately.

"Emotions, nerves, over-reactions and under-reactions all fly about on game day," he comments. "It doesn't come down much to tactics or a gameplan in a final. It's just about being a good team for long periods on the day. We will need to be good but we need to be wary about seeing it as a Mount Everest."

When it comes to those final pre-match moments, you can expect Maguire to be calmer than the animated McDermott, who jokes: "I'll kick a few ice buckets, put a few videos on and do a bit of shadow boxing in the background."

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Hi George. I think last year there was a big chance of either Rhinos or Wire blowing each other off the park score wise and that's what happened but I can't see that happening this year.

    The case for Wigan are that they have been better than Leeds all season. Their defence looks solid and Tomkins and Charnley are the type of devastating ball runners that can score from nothing. They have great players in great form which is a powerful factor.

    Leeds though were at Wembley last year and if you look at their side genuinely have real top notch players with pace who can devastate any team. Players like Webb, Maguire, Burrow etc haven't suddenly lost all their talent and if they get the ball from the forwards they can trouble anyone. They may be coming off a defeat to Quins but Wigan thumped BRadford easily and that isn't always the best prepartion for a big game. In Rugby League teams very rarely reach a peak two weeks in a row.

    Having said that if it rains I would expect the Wigan pack to dominate and Thomas Leauai or Pat Richards winning the Lance Todd. If it's dry then I think we could be in for a high scoring game and it could go either way with lots of contenders for the Lance Todd though of course Tomkins stands out. Just how much it takes out of Wigan win or lose though could be crucial for their title decider at Warrington next week though!

  • Comment number 2.

    League form means nothing in one-off finals. I'm a Saints fan. I know this for a fact! One season we did the double on Leeds, beat them in the play offs but still lost to them in the Grand Final. Another season we went on a 22 match winning run in the league, beat Leeds in the play offs but lost to them in the final. Going further back in time, Bradford were the heavy favourites in a Challenge Cup final and Bobbie Goulding bombed them to death. We won. Wigan may be the favourites for this game but Leeds still contain the spine of the team which won those three Grand Finals and they were humiliated last year. I wouldn't be surprised if Leeds put in a match winning performance on Saturday, just because they can. And against Wigan this season they have been one of the most challenging sides.

    Because I am a Saints fan, I hope Leeds win the Challenge Cup. Good luck Leeds!

  • Comment number 3.

    Typical saints fan hoping and praying for a Leeds win, it just shows how good Wigan actually are when Saints played the best game in a long time in the Semis and still ran out losers against an off form Wigan. Wigan can win games this season without having to play well, and they have showed that twice against Leeds this season, grabbed a last minute draw against Leeds at Headingley after being turned over all the game and didnt play particually well at the DW but still managed to win. Leeds fans are living in a dream world, there will be no upset this weekend, there may be a contest for 20-25 mins but Wigan will then pull away because they want it more just like they wanted the Grand Final last year! There will be no icups and i see a convincing wigan win by 26-30 points with a S Tomkins hat trick and Brett Finch Lance Todd Trophy winner!

  • Comment number 4.

    Nice blog George,
    Good to see a balanced view despite you bleeding blue and amber! As long as the Wigan players are kept grounded by Maguire and don't expect to win then this should see them through but Leeds still have match winners of their own. Wigan will try to blow Leeds off the park in the opening quarter but if Leeds can handle that it will make for a very interesting final indeed. They key for Leeds is unlocking Wigans defence and it may have to be a kicking game that dismantles them.

    Hope it's a great advert for the game and would be nice for "Madge" to go home with a Challenge Cup to add to his Grand Final success.

  • Comment number 5.

    Leeds have ran Wigan close in their games this year but i think Wigan's persistance is amazing and i can see Leeds holding them (or keeping up with) for about 50-60 mins, but Wigan will wear them down and send madge back to Oz with a challange cup victory. Sam tomkins first try Wigan 34 - 16 Leeds

  • Comment number 6.

    As much as Leeds were abject at Quins last week (much to my surprise and delight), I'm sure they'll be much better tomorrow, especially with the great Jamie Peacock making his Wembley debut. I'm liking Leeds +12pts on the handicap.

    Looking out of my office window in Harrow, just a few miles from Wembley, I'm not liking the look of this weather. I thought there was a law dictating that the sun shone on CC Final day?

  • Comment number 7.

    Jamie Peacock? More chance of Ashley Peacock out of corrie having a good game! He's days have gone and its shown this season, i would rather him play because Wigan will have more of a chance of winning! Ill give you 50/1 for Leeds to win by +12

  • Comment number 8.

    Just hope the ref doesn't let Wigan slow the game down or it will be a cricket score here's hoping it's as close as the two semi finals

  • Comment number 9.

    As close as the semi's?????
    Wigan pasted saints in the semi's, if joel Tomkins would have fell over the line instead of passing to Carmont then Wigan would of been out of sight, two late, lucky tries for whipper snapper doesn't make the game close.

  • Comment number 10.

    the closest Saints have been to Wigan this season is the East Lancs

  • Comment number 11.

    2 things are certain about tomorrow:
    1) the form book is out of the window
    2) there'll be 25,000 Wigan fans & 50k shouting for Leeds (I'm being generous & assuming there'll be 5 or 10 chasing prawns in the ring of indifference)

    I just hope we're singing at the end ;-)

  • Comment number 12.

    Is that why Leeds struggled to sell out their allocation and Wigan had to re-apply for more tickets? It doesn't matter how many fans are in there supporting whoever, all you will be able to hear is the Wigan fans throughout the game and at the end when madge is lifting the trophy !

  • Comment number 13.

    I did actually mean that all the "neutrals" will cheer for anyone but us, but I did notice that Leeds had to put out an appeal for people to buy tickets after a "disappointing" set of sales in the first week or so. Which would fit with the 50 or so they sent to the DW the other week.

  • Comment number 14.

    Everybody hates Wigan because of there success in the 90's, similar to Man Utd, a neutral would rather them get beat and see an 'underdog' win rather than the better most consistant side.

  • Comment number 15.

    Sorry I have no critical appreciation or indepth advice or even an opinion of todays match. Infact if my mum hadn't given birth to me she would have sworn I was left in a basket on the step because all the family are diehard Wigan supporters-I dont do sport. Shame I hear you whisper! Mum is 83 a confirmed wigan supporter since Billy Boston and Eric Ashton trampled the field. She and four more mature women between the ages of 68 and 83 donned the cherry and white as they always do- they have season tickets - and boarded the Wigan Express with butties, flasks and hope for a good result. She said she needs to see Wigan win at the new Wembly just once before she kicks the bucket. As I don't want Mary Ashton (no relation to Eric)to come back to dear old Abram with tears in her eyes Wigan needs to win...its really as simple as that.

  • Comment number 16.

    Why does the BBC think, and has anybody requested, that we wish hear what the Referee is saying for the whole of the match? I have had to turn the sound off to avoid the annoying 4 times a minute shout of MOVE from the match official! Let us hear what he has to say when it is interesting and not hear him when it isn't. It is another spin off from the BBC's "Music with Everything" policy I imagine

  • Comment number 17.

    Is it only me that thinks Sam Tomkins two fingered salute to the Leeds fans after Charnleys first try of the challenge cup match totally unacceptable and offensive, there is no place in rugby league for this confratational behaviour from our players and hopefully it has been duly noted and Sam Tomkins will be appropriately dealt with.

  • Comment number 18.

    I think Tomkins' two fingered salute was very embarrassing. The match was being screened worldwide I think and to do that to the opposing fans shows the sport in a poor light. I doubt there will be any fallout from it but there should be. I hope one aspect of that fallout will be a reduction in the nauseating over-hype of Sam Tomkins. Of the young players on the field today, I thought Ben Jones-Bishop was far more impressive. Tomkins was hardly anywhere to be seen.

  • Comment number 19.

    And what about the abuse Sam got from the Leeds fans, is that acceptable? A stains fan condemning a Wigan player, what a surprise! You want to talk about what's acceptable let's talk about Ryan Baileys conduct - far more embarrassing for rugby league!

  • Comment number 20.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 21.

    the most impressive of the young talent on show?????
    Sam Tomkins set up the try of the match and was solid throughout, Ben Jones-Bishop probably cost Leeds the win when the momentum was with them he decided to kick instead of using his pace to probably score.
    I think this shows the difference in the two players....maturity

  • Comment number 22.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 23.

    • Tomkins and Jones Bishop shouldnt even be spoken in the same breath, Tomkins is the best full back in the league and he as played there less than 1 full season, speed, class, agility, kicking and strength, is Bishop up for man of steel? as bishop been young player of the year for the last two seasons? These are typical fans who are jealous of the success of this outstanding rugby league magician. Wigan will be champions for many years to come so i would get used to it now. And Ryan Bailey? This guy as just signed a new deal! What were Leeds thinking.

    The v sign was just a reaction to the childish boos coming from jealous fans

 

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