GRAND FINAL 2009 – LEEDS RHINOS DRESSING ROOM REACTION
Phil Caplan was in the Rhinos dressing room at Old Trafford to speak to the squad after they picked up a historic third Super League title in a row.
It’s all a blur, like it was last year but I’m just so happy to be one of the lads and part of a Leeds time that’s won three on the bounce. My name will go down in history as does everyone in this room and words can’t describe how a professional athlete feels when achieving the goal they set out for eleven months previously, not just for 80 minutes tonight. To do that three times is unbelievable, it’s a great way to cap off the year, absolutely outstanding.
It wasn’t a game for the wingers, the forwards did a huge job tonight pushing from the inside and covering everything up the middle, it was a massive effort. Not just ours but Saints as well, it was one of those Grand Finals that just swung from one end to the other and to come out on top is just a great feeling. We’ve always got self belief in this team, we’ve showed it plenty of times this year where we’ve come from behind and this was another example of us plugging away, doing what we train to do, sticking to the game plan and things tend to work out.
They kept us pinned in our own 20 for vast amounts and defended really well and the boys had to dig deep. Kev with his kicking game and our kick chase was absolutely immense and it got us out of trouble. Our forwards like JP ran their blood to water and were massive, it was a superb occasion for us. We’ve got the three which is a huge achievement that’s put us in the history books but on occasions like this you just want more, so now it’s looking at four on the trot.
We dug in, full credit to the team, all the forwards gave their all. We were tight in defence and it showed in the later stages. Saints blew an 8-0 lead but once we’d edged in front again we didn’t let it slip, we’re good Finals players and we showed it again today. I think I did score my first try of the season, the ref got it wrong but that’s how it goes. It means everything to me, especially for my family, I’ve just had a baby girl and this is for her. Four rings now and that’s down to the coaching and backroom staff, they’ve done really well for us this year.
You don’t think about how many minutes you’re playing, once you’re on there you just do everything you can until you’re dragged off. Jonesy was outstanding, Abbo played a lot and between us we covered for Ali. We sat down and had a chat on Friday night about our personal reasons for winning and obviously I spoke about getting injured with a broken leg in Perpignan. At one stage it looked as though I wouldn’t play again this season so to come back and play in a history-making Grand Final is outstanding, you can’t ask for much more than that.
Ali’s been a fantastic part of this team all season. I don’t reckon I’ve been as good as I could have been and he’s come on so many times and made such a difference. He’s helped us to get where we are and sometimes in finals, when people get injured, you’ve just got to dig deep and cover. I praise God again for the opportunity to come and play. Me, Ali and Kylie said a few prayers up in his room today for all the lads. They say good things happen to good people and it’s not just the Rhinos team, it’s the staff and right through the club, they create a great work ethic and culture. I’m sure the young lads coming through will find that and keep this going. I think we’ve showed a few times when we’ve been down with a few minutes remaining – against Wakefield, that was a big one and Warrington at home – that we’ve had to find something and come back and we spoke about that. St Helens are a fantastic team and have been for the last ten years and if you want to make history you’ve got to overcome sides like that, and sometimes from 8-0 down, but we had the confidence and got it in the end.
Defence wins you big games and we had to do that tonight. We kicked and chased well and shut them down as best we could. It was all about dogged determination, we knew how we wanted to play and how they would come out with what’s happened in the past but we just wanted to focus on ourselves. We knew that if we could achieve what we set out to we would come out on top and the game plan worked to a tee. For me personally it is the most satisfying and enjoyable and if I look back over the last two years I’ve made a progression and that’s what you try to do. This year I’ve had a lot of game time and really enjoyed it and hopefully next year I can keep that going and bring it home again.
It wasn’t the most spectacular try, it won’t gown down as the greatest in history but they all count as four points and it’s a very special moment when you get over at Old Trafford. We needed it, we knew Saints would start well and they did, they were fantastic and really put it to us but we felt that if we were still in there after 20 minutes the game was ours, despite the long time left and effort needed. That try gave us a kick on and I thought Ali, for the limited time he was on there, gave us a real spark and it was just a shame that he picked up the injury, he’d have torn them to threads for the rest of the game. To do it with 16 men and boys carrying a lot of bumps and bruises makes it even more special and often that kind of adversity gets forgotten. It was a real gutsy effort, it’s hard to describe the mental toughness of this team and there is still a lot more success to come.
It was probably the toughest game I’ve ever played in my life. Sometimes I was having second thoughts and questioning myself if I could still carry on and I’d only come off the bench and had a rest. These other boys playing 80 minutes, it was pretty tough for them. We just want to do well for each other and our families. It’s been a hard year, we’ve had our ups and downs, but after losing the World Club and in the Challenge Cup, this is what we aimed for.
Topping the league and winning this speaks for itself. I understand what Saints have been saying about finishing top but you know what the competition is before you start. The big one was today and we knew that but to combine the two is fantastic and definitive. That was the toughest Grand Final, two great teams going at it kick for kick, take nothing away from St Helens, they are a fantastic side. It can go either way between us and it is who turns up on the day and thankfully we just did a little bit extra. The kickers at Leeds are great and you need to do that in big games, you need to finish your sets well and we did that as a team. We knew it would be a vital part and it was.
I could feel my Granddad there with me, he was my biggest fan, he never had a bad word to say against me. If I had the worst game in history I was still the best player in the world to him and when you’ve got someone who supports you like that it is really special. I was really close to him and just wanted to do him and my family proud. That’s what we’ve talked about this week, my parents have travelled all over supporting me and I probably don’t appreciate that as much as I should, so it’s nice to give them some enjoyment tonight. The biggest thing for me is winning with this bunch of lads, you sp
end more time with them than anybody and they are a fantastic, honest, hardworking set of guys and when you put so much in you get your rewards. What it takes to win, this team’s got it. We do take motivation from being written off but the character of the squad is unbelievable. We haven’t been picture perfect all year, we’ve had good and bad patches and tonight was just guts and not wanting to lose, wanting to work hard for your mate alongside you – that’s what gets you through these big games. Saints were the same but we, maybe, wanted it a little bit more.
We’ve got a real belief in our ability to win from any situation, we’ve got a total faith in the systems and each other’s ability and that shone through in the end. It’s the toughest Grand Final I’ve played in and to pinch it at the end having absorbed all their pressure and then come up with our own to snatch a try was a massive effort. Both sides’ defence was great tonight, credit to St Helens, they’ve sorted themselves out at the end of the year and put in a huge performance but we were probably a little bit more clinical. To do it with 16 players makes it even more pleasing especially as Ali is like two men when he comes on, he’s a real game breaker but our bench was awesome, everyone of them made a difference and that is what you want from them. I don’t think it’s about me doing 80 minutes any more, it’s about everyone in the team having a crack. I’m not sure I’ve got it in me to do that in such intense matches and I’m edging towards being a different kind of player than someone who just does the maximum time, I want to be more than that. There was a genuine mutual respect out there, we just got on and played a great game of rugby league and produced a spectacle, anyone who watched that must have enjoyed it.
You go through the pain of last year for night’s like these, you have to take the good and the bad, that’s footy. You always expect against Saints, with their tremendous kickers, to put you under constant pressure and you have to be ready for anything and tonight it was all manner of bombs. I’m just glad I did my job and helped the side. It was physically the toughest game I’ve played in here, without a doubt, anyone watching that would have seen the effort. Credit to Saints, they’ve produced one of the great Grand Finals. To do it without Ali was hard, he just twisted the wrong way in a tackle but the boys picked up the slack and did the work. The try saving tackles by Hally and Kev are the things that win matches and we came up with them.
It was my first shot at a Grand Final and I spoke to all the lads before about their greatest feeling. They said that the first is unbelievable but it gets better and better every time you win one. If it feels any better than this, that would be astonishing. The bench has been really good for us this year, we’ve got such a great squad which allows us to pick such a strong one and there is a lot of emphasis on it to lift the side and take it to another tempo. Nowadays it doesn’t really matter as much about starting as long as you are in the 17, it is more important to be a part of it. It was the most intense game I’ve ever played in, completely different to any other, with all the build up beforehand and at half time when you realise where you are and what’s in front of you. To see my family after the game, my mum, brothers and Grandma, it was just fantastic. The lads have been brilliant to me, I roomed with Carl Ablett and this is his third victory and he’s only a young lad, a year older than me. They all told me to relax, play my normal game and enjoy the occasion and everything about it which I’m going to do.
Every emotion is going through my mind; to leave these wonderful people, winning a third Grand Final and scoring the winning try. I’m on top of the world at the moment, absolutely, it hasn’t sunk in yet and I’m going to have a few minutes to myself on the bus to try and make sense of it all and take it in. It was the toughest 4,800 seconds of my career, absolute torture, I was completely out on my feet in the last couple of minutes. I switched off and they kicked behind me on the last re-start I was so completely gone. These blokes got us through, the pack was absolutely awesome and we played on the back of it. Even at 8-0 down we knew we could score points but full credit to Saints, every final I’ve played in they have been absolutely brilliant and they are right up there with us as being the best two teams by far. I wouldn’t back against it being the same two sides again next season, they are two quality outfits but there has to be a loser and, luckily, it hasn’t been me. One person I’ll really miss is Danny (McGuire), he’s an absolutely quality person, I’ve worked a lot with him this year defending on the same side. The try was just instinct. We’re both Leeds lads, support the Rhinos and United and are Leeds fanatics, he’s someone I’ll really, really miss. I’ll miss them all but Maggs is up there, I love him.
I’m just so happy for the boys and their efforts. The other three guys that went off the bench made a big impact but saying that, as whole, everyone dug in deep and worked real hard for each other and the result came our way. The friendship and closeness of the team speaks volumes out on the field and you can see it when things get hard and they tough it out together, it’s a real good team spirit. To win the league and Grand Final and make history are the moments that you remember for the rest of your life no matter if you get injured. As a whole squad, we all played a part; phyios, doctors, coaching staff, collectively it’s a real good team effort.