IF Saturday’s Tetley’s Challenge Cup final between Leeds Rhinos and Castleford Tigers is anything like as brutal as the last time these rivals played in a major showpiece then the BBC may have to add an X-rating to their live coverage.
The West Yorkshire neighbours have, of course, never met at Wembley before in the famous old competition so this weekend will provide a first in that regard.
But they have rarely battled in any other garlanded event either, the last such meeting being the epic Championship final of 1969 when Leeds eventually prospered in a fearsome contest that truly lends itself to the phrase “blood and guts”.
Many of those who witnessed that explosive fixture, played out in front of 28,442 supporters at Bradford Northern’s Odsal stadium, remain bemused as to how only one player – Castleford prop Dennis Hartley – was sent off and, even then, that was not until the last minute of a bruising and often under-handed 80 minutes.
More players trudged off broken, injured or seeing stars than actual tries were scored as Castleford, renowned for their no-nonsense and intimidating style, saw their nerveless opponents accept the challenge head on and eventually emerge triumphant.
With Bev Risman holding his cool to crucially improve John Atkinson’s late try, the Loiners came out 16-14 victors to deny their fierce rivals a first league title.
Furthermore, it also prevented the Glassblowers from being the first Yorkshire side in more than half a century to complete the double, given Castleford had defeated Salford in the Challenge Cup final just a week earlier.
It was Leeds’s second Championship success after their long-awaited maiden victory of 1961.
However, considering they had finished first and retained the League Leaders’ Trophy, Joe Warham’s side (initial coach Roy Francis had departed for Australia mid-season and then promoted A team coach Jack Nelson tragically died on Christmas Day) could hardly be begrudged the title of champions.
Castleford fans may not concur; 45 years on and they are still awaiting that elusive first title glory.
As Leeds second-row Bill Ramsey recalls, though, in the book ‘Leeds Rhinos: Match of My Life’, his side had had enough hearing about Castleford’s so-called mean pack.
“The pundits couldn’t split us, the sides were so well matched and then there was the derby element,” wrote the rugged player, who had helped Leeds win the Challenge Cup the previous season.
“The general feeling in the media was we had a more dangerous three-quarter line and a better kicker in Bev Risman but Castleford had the stronger pack.
“I didn’t agree with that assessment. All the time I was at Headingley, I kept hearing the Leeds pack was soft and couldn’t match the bigger, harder ones.
“Cas were the benchmark at that time, which was another motivation for our forwards going into the game.
“We’d proved it so many times when we were supposed to have been out-muscled and come out on top on the scoreboard but still all we heard was we’d an easier fixture list and we’d be found wanting when it really mattered.”
Ramsey says Castleford set the tone early on in this final with some blatant foul play and his side merely responded.
Regardless, the result was carnage. Leeds prop Mick Clark departed and returned with a head guard, Castleford’s maverick scrum-half Keith Hepworth was carried off and Leeds’s own No 7 and captain Barry Seabourne was eventually sidelined by the shoulder that had dislocated four times in their semi-final win over Salford.
Running repairs on players seemed constant and Castleford’s Malcolm Reilly, the prodigious young loose-forward who had won the Lance Todd Trophy at Wembley seven days earlier, was also left unable to continue.
Ramsey admitted: “Malcolm Reilly suffered with concussion after taking a series of blows and couldn’t come back either, which was a huge loss for them.
“He’d been deliberately targeted by us throughout the first half because of his threat. His running game was hard to hold but we found a way of putting a stop to that.
“It all resulted in some bad publicity not least because of the roughhouse tactics but I still maintain that Castleford set the atmosphere from kick-off.
“As the game progressed, it was unbelievable what referee Billy Thompson let go.”
Leeds trailed 11-7 at half-time, winger Ron Cowan scoring a try and Risman adding two penalties with Castleford scoring through Clive Dickinson’s try, converted by Mick Redfearn, who also slotted a penalty to go with captain Alan Hardisty’s drop goal.
After the break, Risman added another penalty but Great Britain stand-off Hardisty intercepted Mike Joyce’s pass to go over.
Redfearn missed the conversion attempt and so, when Ramsey kicked a drop goal – “the most important kick of my life” – the Loiners were in touching distance.
Redfearn missed a penalty, too, so, when full-back Risman made a searing break from deep inside his own half to set up Atkinson with a precise grubber at the death, it was all square.
Ramsey did the rest to leave Castleford ruined and, to this day, Reilly still winces at the memory or, at least, the fragments of it he can recall.
“We should have won that game but I didn’t see the end of it,” he says.
“I got hit off the ball, caught an elbow from Bill Ramsey. It was just like switching the lights off.
“The changing rooms in those days were right at the top at Bradford. I came off concussed not knowing where I was.
“They sat me down in the concrete dugout and one of the trainers, maybe Jonny Walker, was told to get me up and walk me around although it’s all hearsay to me as I can’t recall.
“Anyway, I stood up and hit my head again on the concrete roof.
“I woke up sat in the bath on my own washing myself thinking ‘what the hell am I doing here?’”
And what of Ramsey?
“The next time he came to Castleford I was knocking seven bells out of him and at least twice he said ‘You’re square now aren’t you?’.
“I said ‘I’ll let you know when I’m square!’”
Castleford, and Reilly, won the Challenge Cup again 12 months later and he was in charge when they last lifted it in 1986.
Leeds won the Championship Final again in 1972 but then had to wait 32 years before Kevin Sinfield lifted the first of six Super League titles.
Ironically, Castleford have never since got as close as in ’69 yet their current side are not only eyeing up Wembley this weekend but potentially a maiden Grand Final appearance, too. That double may still be on...
Nash’s virtuoso display key for Featherstone...
IT has been more than 40 years since an all-West Yorkshire Challenge Cup final was last contested at Wembley.
Leeds Rhinos meet Castleford Tigers there on Saturday in the sport’s oldest and most prestigious knockout competition.
However, despite such a plethora of great clubs in the region, it was as long ago as 1973 that two such derby rivals met in London on the grand stage.
Featherstone Rovers defeated Bradford Northern 33-17 to lift the trophy for the second time in their history, scrum-half Steve Nash delivering a virtuoso display to take the Lance Todd Trophy.
Leeds, of course, played Bradford Bulls in 2000 and again three years later but those derby defeats came at Murrayfield and Millennium Stadium, respectively, while Wembley stadium was being rebuilt.
The last Cup final at Wembley to feature two sides from throughout Yorkshire was in 1986 when, perhaps as a good omen for Castleford next weekend, they prospered against Hull KR.
Admittedly, Hull FC did also defeat Leeds in 2005 but, like a couple of years earlier, that, too, was played in Cardiff.
Holders Wigan, however, are the competition’s most successful club, extending their record to 19 wins in 2013.