Leeds Rhinos 6 Warrington Wolves 30: Abject Leeds found wanting as Warrington lay down a marker

THERE will be be no need to prepare a 25th anniversary re-union for this Challenge Cup final.

Wigan and Hull players from the 1985 showpiece, all a little heftier and some greyer, were paraded out on the Wembley turf before Saturday's affair got underway, fittingly commemorating their classic encounter.

In the 114th final of the famous competition, it had widely been thought Leeds and Warrington would provide a similar masterpiece of sporting theatre to rival that classic.

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The Cheshire club, with Lee Briers resplendent again and England centre Ryan Atkins so robust against his hometown team, delivered their side of the bargain with a performance rich in skill, courage and, not least, fortitude but their beleaguered opponents could well still be suffering nightmares of this day come 2035 following a thoroughly anti-climactic offering.

It was not through any lack of effort as Leeds battled away throughout and engineered decent opportunities. However, not one player fully rose to the occasion and produced their best, something Wembley demands if you are to emerge victorious. That will be the regret which could linger long.

The signs were ominous when Danny Buderus fluffed Briers's kick-off to concede possession immediately but, equally so, Leeds then defended the position with real guts, a five-man tackle led by Brett Delaney forcing Atkins into touch on the first tackle from the resulting scrum; each side celebrated their relative success as if it was the final seconds of the contest, not the opening.

But, ultimately, it was Leeds's failure to capitalise on some early sustained pressure which shaped the game.

Only Ryan Bailey will know why he tried to barge over Richard Mathers in the fourth minute when a slight detour either side of his former Leeds team-mate would have seen him open the scoring.

Maybe it is a prop's natural instinct but it finished with Mathers and Louis Anderson preventing the burly front-row from grounding the ball, something resilient Warrington would do three more times before the afternoon was out.

Buderus was held up moments later by a terrific Briers tackle and the efficiency and organisational quality of their defence was already plain to see; it would need something special to open them up and nervous Leeds, despite boasting so many game-breakers, did not possess it. Not on this day, at least.

Conversely, Briers, the mercurial stand-off, grabbed the game by the scruff of its neck, delivering a perfectly lofted chip for Atkins to rise above Delaney and touch down before producing his trademark 40/20 straight after to set up position for Chris Hicks's first of three tries.

Not since Leeds's Leroy Rivett grabbed four in 1999, the last showpiece to be played at the old Wembley, has a player scored a final hat-trick although the Australian winger was aided with a slice of good luck on his opener. Craftsman Briers's long pass allowed Matt King to drop Hicks back inside, exploiting a hole where the unfortunate Bailey had slipped as he tried to cover.

Leeds struggled to retaliate with their kicking game strangely absent and their pack, missing the drive and leadership of the injured Jamie Peacock, being too easily subdued by their meticulous opponents.

England winger Ryan Hall did have a couple of chances but was first denied by a fine cover tackle from Ben Westwood and then harshly brought back for a forward pass off Brent Webb.

They had double reason to complain when referee Richard Silverwood failed to notice Chris Riley was offside when picking up the scraps of a Danny McGuire kick.

The Warrington winger advanced 20 metres before, at the next play, Atkins, once rejected by Rhinos, slipped through an alarming gap between Hall and Ian Kirke to stroll to the posts, Westwood finally able to add a conversion.

Wolves should have made sure of the win just seconds into the second period when Westwood romped clear but failed to see an unmarked Mickey Higham on his inside and instead kicked to the corner where King was just denied by the chasing figure of Rob Burrow.

A forceful angled run from Delaney again should have ended in a Leeds try but once more Mathers and Atkins somehow held the Australian centre up and, after Kirke had almost stretched over, Mathers brilliantly denied Delaney again, prompting wild celebrations from the heroic full-back.

At that point, Warrington seemed unbreakable and so, when Briers's crossfield kick was taken by Hicks for his second shortly after the hour mark, there was no thought Leeds would ever recover, especially when Sinfield's short re-start failed to go 10 metres.

When Leeds did finally breach them it came courtesy of a forward pass from McGuire and, even after Lee Smith proved Mathers was human, Atkins still almost prevented the winger grounding.

Sinfield converted but the score only seemed to serve as an injustice to their swarming opponents who found another gear to finish strongly, Hicks completing his treble and Louis Anderson plundering over from Mathers's off-load.

The chants from the Warrington fans of "Easy, easy, easy" was something no-one had expected to hear 76 minutes earlier but, in the end, they were right.

Leeds: Webb; Smith, Senior, Delaney, Hall; McGuire, Burrow; Leukemia, Buderus, Bailey, Clarkson, Jones-Buchanan, Sinfield. Substitutes: Diskin, Eastwood, Kirke, Ablett.

Warrington: Mathers; Hicks, King, Atkins, Riley; Briers, Monaghan; Morley, Clarke, Carvell, L Anderson, Westwood, Harrison. Substitutes: Wood, Solomona, Higham, V Anderson.

Referee: Richard Silverwood (Mirfield)