THE WAIT is, at last, over for Leeds Rhinos’ golden generation.
Ryan Hall scored two superb tries at Wembley this afternoon to finally see the West Yorkshire club lift the Tetley’s Challenge Cup.
They had lost a record six successive finals since last prospering in 1999, despite winning the same number of Super League Grand Finals in the process.
However, having proved so tactically astute here against Castleford Tigers, ecstatic captain Kevin Sinfield finally got his hands on the famous trophy.
Hall, the England winger, came up with a couple of world-class finishes in both halves, fending off helpless opponents to set up a famous triumph and earn himself the Lance Todd Trophy, narrowly denying the excellent Danny McGuire.
Castleford, playing their first Challenge Cup final since 1992, needed to bring the class they had showed so often in Super League this term but, unfortunately for Daryl Powell’s side, they were too scrappy and incohesive to take control.
They did get the game back to 16-10 via Oli Holmes’ 47th minute try but then fumbled in the next set, the sort of error which would regularly frustrate them.
Castleford had a couple of chances but Leeds’ defence scrambled well and Hall’s second, after he swatted off Liam Finn, in the 67th minute settled it before McGuire’s late drop goal saw him and his team-mates literally leaping with joy.
Leeds looked in command as soon as Tom Briscoe - who lost here with Hull FC 12 months earlier - had put them ahead with a fifth minute try.
Andy Lynch had lost possession to give their opponents the chance and further mistakes from Castleford, often caused by some robust defence, meant Leeds dominated.
Daryl Clark did twist over for Powell’s side after collecting Marc Sneyd’s clever grubber in the 12th minute but it proved a false dawn.
McGuire, Burrow and Sinfield all kicked well for Leeds to keep the pressure on, adopting the tactic of finding touch to slow Castleford down, while Zak Hardaker was a forceful runner from full-back, too.
It was Burrow’s chipped kick that saw McGuire, Super League’s all-time leading try-scorer, score his first-ever Challenge Cup final try on 17 minutes.
Luke Dorn, the Castleford full-back, will be disappointed, however, as he failed to get off the ground waiting for the ball to drop, McGuire sneaking in as he paused.
Sinfield added his second conversion but could not do so when his side added their third try in the 25th minute.
Hardaker, returning a kick, busted through Sneyd and Clark on a 50m run and, though, he was collared, McGuire showed ambition by arrowing a pass to Ryan Hall on the last tackle, the England winger showing all his finishing prowess by driving back Kirk Dixon with one hand and then touching down with the other.
Sneyd was immediately substituted and, when Justin Carney foolishly performed a dangerous lift on Kallum Watkins, Burrow nearly scrambled over but was just held up.
Castleford were much improved in the second half, though, and scored a superb try early on when Michael Shenton got on the outside of Watkins to race away and find Holmes back on his inside, Finn improving.
But they could not deny Leeds who finished strongly to finally rid themselves of their Challenge Cup heartache.
Castleford Tigers: Dorn; Dixon, Webster, Shenton, Carney; Sneyd, Finn; Lynch, Clark, Huby, Holmes, Hauraki, Massey.
Replacements: Mariano, Wheeldon, Ellis, Jewitt.
Leeds Rhinos: Hardaker; Briscoe, Watkins, Moon, Hall; Sinfield, McGuire; Leuluai, Burrow, Peacock, Delaney, Ablett, Jones-Buchanan.
Replacements: Aiton, Bailey, Kirke, Sutcliffe.
Referee: Phil Bentham (RFL)