Challenge Cup Final Preview

Senior fitness causes stir

Leeds and Hull held their traditional eve-of-Powergen Challenge Cup final walkabouts at the Millennium Stadium in an atmosphere of intrigue over the fitness of the Rhinos' Great Britain international Keith Senior.

While Leeds coach Tony Smith insisted the 28-year-old blockbusting centre is fit to play after making a miraculous recovery from a badly-twisted ankle, he was accused by his counterpart John Kear of playing mind games.

"If he plays left centre, I think I'll be playing right," said Kear, a diminutive winger in his playing days with Castleford and Bramley.

"It's obviously up to Leeds but, if they play him, it's a big risk. I would have liked Keith to play. He is a friend of mine and I don't like to see any player injured.

"When you look at the injury - and we have looked at it on video - it looked too serious to recover from in nine days but we'll wait and see."

Smith laughed off Kear's comments, and said: "We might put a few high balls up for John."

Senior was carried off on a stretcher just a week ago after falling awkwardly in a tackle by Bradford forward Joe Vagana but has been having treatment around the clock in a bid to play in his fourth Cup final.

"Keith will play unless something happens between now and kick-off," said Smith. "The medical staff have done a great job. He's fine. We've been testing him all week and he's getting better and better all the time.

"I'm happy for him to play. He's been around long enough to know not to play if he's not right."

Leeds captain Kevin Sinfield also insisted Senior will play, adding: "He's the best centre in the world so it's been a massive boost for us that he's fit.?

Smith omitted winger Lee Smith and prop Nick Scruton from his initial 20-strong squad and is likely to leave out a back row forward, Willie Poching or Jamie Jones-Buchanan, when he finalises his line-up.

If he gets the vote, Poching will play with headgear to protect a cheekbone fractured in a match against Leigh three weeks ago, bringing back memories of Leeds second rower Matt Adamson playing with a broken jaw in the 2003 final against Bradford.

Twenty-year-old Graeme Horne, younger brother of stand-off Richard, was the unlucky Hull player when Kear trimmed his squad to 18.

He and prop Liam Higgins were left out of Hull's initial squad, with centre Tom Saxton almost certain to be 18th man when Kear names his starting line-up an hour before kick-off.

There are two changes from the team that beat holders St Helens 34-8 in the semi-final a month ago.

Australian winger Nathan Blacklock, who missed that match with a knee injury, takes over from Richie Barnett, who is sidelined with an ankle injury, and Chris Chester gets the vote ahead of Horne, who played in all four of Hull's previous Powergen Challenge Cup ties this season.

"Graeme was pulled in at the last minute and did a great job," said Kear. "He's obviously very disappointed but that's how it is.

"He's contributed to us getting here and, if we are successful, it's a squad contribution which we will recognise.

"Chris Chester is an integral part of our 17 and he offers us something wide out. He's different to the second rows who start the game."

The 26-year-old Chester, a losing Grand Finalist with Wigan in 2000, sat out the semi-final with a sternum injury but has made 18 appearances this season.

Probable teams (with squad numbers):

Hull: 14 M Tony; 2 N Blacklock, 30 R Whiting, 3 K Yeaman, 5 G Raynor; 6 R Horne, 21 D Brough; 8 E Dowes, 9 R Swain (capt), 20 Carvell, 11 S McMenemy, 12 S Kearney, 13 P Cooke. Subs: 10 P King, 15, J Thackray, 16 T Saxton, 17 C Chester.

Leeds: 1 R Mathers; 2 M Calderwood, 3 C Walker, 4 K Senior, 5 M Bai; 14 A Dunemann, 7 R Burrow; 8 R Bailey, 9 M Diskin, 15 D Ward, 20 G Ellis, 12 C McKenna, 13 K Sinfield (capt). Subs: 6 D McGuire, 10, B McDermott, 11 A Lauitiiti, 16 W Poching or 18 J Jones-Buchanan.

Referee: S Ganson (St Helens).

Many thanks to for this Challenge Cup Final preview