Leeds Rhinos claimed their twelfth victory in the 113th running of the Challenge Cup on Saturday in an absorbing, if not scintillating final at Wembley Stadium, with a ruthlessly efficient performance. Their beaten opponents, the Castleford Tigers, long wait for the Cup continues into a 29th year after the all West Yorkshire clash ended 23-10 to Leeds. Much had been made in the build up of Leeds recent failures to convert Wembley appearances into successes, although a startling fact was that they had 44 cup final appearances between the seventeen player squad compared to only two for Castleford. That chasm in experience on show may have been the telling factor by the end. 

Their victory owed much to a dominant first half that saw them lead 16-4 at the break, reflecting their heavy possession and territorial advantage at that point. Tom Briscoe was keen to put defeat with Hull twelve months ago behind him as he took advantage of a slight overlap to go over in the corner for the first try in the fourth minute, converted expertly by captain and all time leading Super League points scorer, Kevin Sinfield. Then just as Cas had come back into the contest in the twelfth minute, as hooker Daryl Clark chased on to a grubber kick and rode Zak Hardaker's tackle to score an unconverted try, Leeds scored again. Danny McGuire leapt highest to catch a high kick from Rob Burrow, as the Tigers’ defence peered into the sun. That converted try pushed Leeds further ahead, and when Ryan Hall steamrollered over after a typically forceful break by Hardaker from his own goal line to near the half way line, it was as much as they deserved, despite Sinfield missing the extra points. Leeds went into half time 16-4 in front. Castleford came out stronger in the second half and were rewarded with a try of their own, as captain Michael Shenton broke through out wide and cleverly slipped the ball back inside to put Oliver Holmes in for a try besides the uprights.

Advertisements
Advertisements

Finn (a tactical switch for Sneyd at half time) converted and the game was back in the balance at 16-10.

Just as it seemed that the Rhinos may be getting jittery, up stepped Hall once more in the 67th minute with an opportunistic try when little seemed on. He brushed off four defenders as his strength powered him over the line. Sinfield knew luck was on Leeds side as the conversion went over off both posts! 22-10 to his team and the match was all but won. Cas went for broke with some adventurous play from their own goal line in the last ten minutes, but careless penalties stalled any momentum and their hopes were finally ended when McGuire (sporting a bang to the ribs near the end) landed a drop goal in the 76th minute to push Leeds three scores clear with four minutes left. A Tigers’ comeback never looked likely and the match petered out, Hardaker gleefully launching the ball into the stands on the final play.

Advertisements

Leeds breathed a sigh of relief and began their jubilant celebrations. Both teams are still in the mix for the playoff places in the Super League and Cas especially will hope to regain their focus quickly, having seen their form dip slightly of late as they have dropped to fifth in the table. The ‘Golden Generation’ of Leeds’ players and their admiring fans will celebrate heartily after this but will also have one eye on a potential league and cup double, as they hope that McGuire's knock is not too serious. #Rugby