JOHN Asiata admits his Challenge Cup knowledge was scratchy to non-existent when he first signed for Leigh.

But “one of the smartest rugby league players in the world” according to coach Adrian Lam is well aware of the magnitude of Saturday’s Betfred Challenge Cup semi-final against St Helens.

It is a massive game - beat the World Club and Super League champions and the Leopards are through to a first Wembley final since 1971.

And it may be Leigh’s biggest game for decades but Asiata will be the same cool, calm and confident influence.

“Sometimes you have that little switch that does really get to you,” said the former North Queensland Cowboy Grand Final winner in the build-up to the Halliwell Jones Stadium show down.

“Normally though I try to be as calm as I can so the others don’t freak out. As a captain, it is always good to be direct and to get across the points you want to.

“But you must understand how different people work and how they learn.

“I have a good idea of the individuals in my team how they can respond back better. Once you understand your team mates it makes your job as captain a lot easier.

“I am very family orientated person,” added the doting dad of two.

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“I look at my team mates like family so as long as they are enjoying their footie their best will come.”

Asiata will be making just his fourth Challenge Cup appearance against Saints. “I didn’t know too much about it (the competition) so it was only before the Hull KR tie last year I found out more,” he admitted.

“I am not a person who watches a lot of rugby league. But I do know now people over here hold the Challenge Cup very high and it is one of the trophies everyone wants to win.”

Asiata’s career hung in the balance when refusal to have the COVID vaccination cost him a contract with Canterbury Bulldogs.

Now 30, he hasn’t ruled out an NRL at some stage. “No doors are closed and if opportunity arose and it fitted with what we want to do as a family, I would explore it.

“But now it is all about here and trying to enjoy and play rugby league. Whether we go back or not I leave with my faith.

“If God really wants me back in the NRL he will open that door for me. But this is where I am and I am understanding now why I ended up here.”

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Leigh are expected to be at full strength despite hookers Edwin Ipape and Aaron Smith missing last Sunday’s breathless 24-22 win at Salford through illness.

James Roby and Mark Percival are out for Saints due to concussion protocols while doubts remain over: Tommy Makinson, Curtis Sironen, Joe Batchelor and Tee Ritson.

Neither Lam or opposite number Paul Wellens will be drawn on which team is favourite to meet Wigan or Hull KR in the final on April 12.

But Leigh are four points and two places better off in the league and were deserved 20-12 winners back in March.

“It is a massive mountain to climb but if we turn up and give our absolute all, we will give ourselves a chance,” said Lam of Leigh’s first Challenge Cup semi-final since 1987.