LEE Radford believes tonight’s trip to Headingley is bigger and more important than playing at Wembley.
On the face of it, stepping out at a stadium with one stand being torn down and another about to be does not compare to the national stadium in front of 67,000 people.
But in terms of Hull’s season, Headingley is where everything he talked about after winning the Challenge Cup last season is on the line.
And not even retaining the trophy this year comes close on the priority list compared to tonight’s clash with Leeds.
“The semis were the bigger priority this time around,” admitted Radford.
“And to the group, internally, I think this is bigger than Wembley. The opportunity to walk out at Old Trafford would be so special and massive for us.
“The fact we got rid of that hoodoo last year, getting that monkey off the back was huge but one thing we haven’t done is win at Old Trafford.
“That would be our Mecca if we could do it this year.
“Everything we set out to do when we got together for pre-season in November was about striving towards tonight.
“We set out to retain the Cup as hard as we possibly could and we did that but we also set out to make the top four.
“The goal was to give ourselves the chance of playing in the Grand Final and that’s what we’ve got. I can sense the excitement among the players and we know we’ve got to play well.”
Radford can seemingly do no wrong in Hull at the moment. After being a big name who did not deliver, they are now at rugby league’s top table.
Winning the Cup twice and making Super League’s semi-finals is matched by ambition off the field.
Next year, they and Wigan are playing a Super League match in Australia before taking on two of the NRL’s biggest names, St George and South Sydney.
It may sound like pie in the sky but the bank accounts – with up to £1 million in sponsorship agreements being split between them – will tell you differently.
One of the driving forces behind that is captain Gareth Ellis, who is retiring at the end of the season.
Should the Rhinos win, tonight will be his last game, but Radford thought he was going to be forced to an early end on previous visits to his former club.
“I remember Gaz coming off in the warm-up of what should have been his first game for us and seeing his head in his hands in the changing room,” Radford added.
“He was in tears at that time but when he did his Achilles at Headingley in 2015, everyone put a line through him. That was him done but he responded in true Gaz Ellis fashion.
“To come back from them in itself is a feat in itself. To do it the way he has shows what he’s about.
“He’s a legend. He’s such an example to our younger blokes and been such a calming influence when the waters have been rougher.
“I’m desperate to see him at Old Trafford with that trophy above his head.”
And as a Hull-lad born and bred, Radford can tell things are going well, he does not get moaned at from supporters.
“It’s never usually plain sailing at our club and putting up with what I had to in my first couple of years in charge put me in really good stead,” he told SunSport.
“I’d walk round the shops and people would say, ‘Why aren’t you doing this? Why aren’t you signing him?’
“Now it’s pats on the back and hopefully I’ll get a few more in the next fortnight!”
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