Leeds Rhinos claimedtheir twelfth victory in the 113th running of the Challenge Cup onSaturday in an absorbing, if not scintillating final at Wembley Stadium, with aruthlessly efficient performance. Their beaten opponents, the CastlefordTigers, long wait for the Cup continues into a 29th year after the all WestYorkshire clash ended 23-10 to Leeds. Much had been made inthe build up of Leeds recent failures to convert Wembley appearances intosuccesses, although a startling fact was that they had 44 cup final appearancesbetween the seventeen player squad compared to only two for Castleford.

That chasmin 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 thebreak, reflecting their heavy possession and territorial advantage at thatpoint. Tom Briscoe was keen to put defeat with Hull twelve months ago behindhim as he took advantage of a slight overlap to go over in the corner for thefirst try in the fourth minute, converted expertly by captain and alltime leading Super League points scorer, Kevin Sinfield.

Then just as Cas hadcome back into the contest in the twelfth minute, as hooker Daryl Clarkchased on to a grubber kick and rode Zak Hardaker's tackle to score anunconverted try, Leeds scored again. Danny McGuire leapt highest to catch ahigh kick from Rob Burrow, as the Tigers’ defence peered into the sun. Thatconverted try pushed Leeds further ahead, and when Ryan Hall steamrollered overafter a typically forceful break by Hardaker from his own goal line to near thehalf way line, it was as much as they deserved, despite Sinfield missing theextra points.

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Leeds went into half time 16-4 in front. Castleford came out stronger in the second half and were rewarded with a try oftheir own, as captain Michael Shenton broke through out wide and cleverlyslipped the ball back inside to put Oliver Holmes in for a try besides theuprights. Finn (a tactical switch for Sneyd at half time) converted and thegame was back in the balance at 16-10.

Just as it seemed that the Rhinos may be getting jittery, up stepped Hall oncemore in the 67th minute with an opportunistic try when little seemedon.

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 bothposts! 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 thelast ten minutes, but careless penalties stalled any momentum and their hopeswere finally ended when McGuire (sporting a bang to the ribs near the end) landeda drop goal in the 76th minute to push Leeds three scores clear with fourminutes left.

A Tigers’ comeback never looked likely and the match petered out,Hardaker gleefully launching the ball into the stands on the final play. Leedsbreathed a sigh of relief and began their jubilant celebrations. Both teams are still in the mix for the playoff places in the Super League andCas especially will hope to regain their focus quickly, having seen their formdip slightly of late as they have dropped to fifth in the table. The ‘Golden Generation’ of Leeds’ players and their admiring fans willcelebrate heartily after this but will also have one eye on a potential league and cup double, as they hope that McGuire'sknock is not too serious.

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