Challenge Cup: Party time for Rhinos as Tigers are crushed

Man of the Match, Ryan Hall with the trophy.' (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)
Man of the Match, Ryan Hall with the trophy.' (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)
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Leeds can party like it is 1999 after lifting a 15-year weight from their shoulders by winning the Challenge Cup at Wembley.

Since the Rhinos beat London to win rugby league’s most famous competition in the last final at the old national stadium, they have lost six successive showpieces - a statistic made all the more startling when it is put alongside the six Grand Finals they have won in that time.

With each defeat the desperation to win the cup has increased and all that pressure was released as Castleford were beaten 23-10 to give Brian McDermott’s men the silverware they craved the most.

“It will take a while to come up with the right phrase to sum up the feeling,” the coach said. “We have been striving for this for so long, the club has, and to eventually get it is a big feeling.

“For the players it’s a sense of relief, elation. They’re an emotional bunch right now but we feel like we have delivered something. I feel like I have delivered something. We have picked up six silver medals but now we have a gold, and that’s a big feeling.”

Leeds have been the kings of the league in the last decade, with Old Trafford a second home to them. Their cup struggles, though, have bewildered them and amused rival supporters.

“A lot of this (feeling) is down to the history,” McDermott added. “It’s the journey there; I haven’t coached every one of those six losses but I feel it, you feel that mounting pressure.

“This is a different feeling entirely.”

Leeds never looked like losing a game they controlled from the time Tom Briscoe opened the scoring five minutes in.

Two outstanding finishes from Ryan Hall supplemented some incessant work from their forward pack and, when half-back Danny McGuire - who saw the game out with broken ribs - slotted a drop goal late on, they knew they were home.

“This is right up there, as to lose the other finals has been horrible,” said captain Kevin Sinfield, who has become so accustomed to hoisting the Super League trophy above his head.

“To finally get our hands on this is really special; not just for me and the guys who have lost here before, but the players, our family, friends, the coaches, the club and the fans. They kept coming down here, spending their hard-earned money and then driving back up the M1 disappointed.

“The word for me is perseverance. It has been 15 hard years to get this back - it’s too long. We haven’t deserved it (in those 15 years) but this is special.

“We stuck at it, continued what we were doing. For the last 15 years the club and the fans have persevered through quite a bit of adversity and we stand here smiling, which is great.”

Daryl Powell was a member of that 1999 Leeds side but was on the other side of the fence on Saturday, plotting their downfall as Castleford coach.

The boyhood Cas fan was unable to stop his old employers earning the win, though, admitting that his men were just not good enough on the day.

Much was made of the lack of big-game experience in the Tigers side ahead of kick-off, but Powell thought Leeds were simply too quick and too cohesive.

“We recognised there was a challenge laid down in the first half by Leeds that we didn’t go with particularly well,” he said.

“We did show courage, determination, but we were never quite good enough to score enough points to put Leeds under the intense pressure we needed to.

“The first half was disappointing. Leeds were very good, their kicking game excellent, they challenged us is certain areas of the field and our response was never really good enough.”

Castleford have been one of the stand-out teams of the season and remain firmly in the thick of a battle to win the Super League title.

It is not inconceivable that they could meet Leeds again at Old Trafford in October and Powell is keen to make sure that his men learn the lessons of this big-stage loss.

‘The feedback from them is that the preparation was great so we need to see what the reasons were that we didn’t deliver,” he added.

“We needed to see why, as a group, did we not deliver our best performance. Our best performance would have made it a tight game. We have to learn.”