Leeds Rhinos women to make history at Wembley against old rivals St Helens
Rhinos overcame a spirited defensive performance by Wigan Warriors to win 16-4 in Sunday’s second semi-final at Headingley and set up a repeat of last year’s showpiece, which was staged at Elland Road.
St Helens prevailed that afternoon to retain the trophy, after Leeds had won the competition in 2018 and 2019.
Leeds, the reigning Women’s Super League champions, crushed Wigan 52-0 in a league game two weeks earlier, but were forced to dig deep and did not get a grip on the semi-final until the last 20 minutes.
Amy Hardcastle, the England star signed from St Helens in the off-season, powered over from 15 metres out, stepping round the first defender and proving too strong when she got to the line, to open the scoring for Leeds midway through the first half.
The advantage was short-lived though. Caitlin Beevers couldn’t take a bouncing kick near Rhinos’ line and in the resulting set Beri Salihi – whose mistake had given Rhinos the ball for their try – went in at the corner from Rachel Thompson’s pass.
Neither try was converted and there was no more scoring until the 61st minute when a superb pass from Caitlin Casey found Beevers and she stepped infield to score between the posts.
Eloise Hayward tagged on the two and Leeds scored again five minutes later through winger Tara Moxon who crossed at the corner from captain Hanna Butcher’s pass after Jenna Greening and Bethan Dainton had handled.
Hayward couldn’t add the extras, but landed a penalty from in front of the posts with seven minutes left to complete the scoring.
Rhinos coach Lois Forsell insisted she never felt her team were in danger of losing, but admitted to being “frustrated” by their performance in the first 40.
They made a series of errors in wet conditions and, other than Hardcastle’s try, failed to create any clear chances.
“We definitely did it tough,” said Forsell. “We knew Wigan were going to come with intent and they can be really proud of their efforts.
“It took us a bit of time to get going, but defensively we were much better in the second half than the first and that’s where the game was won.
“”We know the longer we stay in a game, we are going to find a way to win. We were patient, but also not firing early doors.”
For Hardcastle, playing at Wembley will be the highlight of a glittering career. She said: “I think when I am there is when it will feel real.
“I am in a bit of a dream at the moment. It is surreal that in a few weeks’ time we will be walking out of that tunnel, making history.”
A last-gasp drop goal by St Helens Fayre Gaskin broke York Valkyrie’s hearts in Saturday’s first semi-final.
The game looked to be heading for golden-point extra-time when Tara Jane Stanley levelled the scores at 16-16 with a 73rd minute penalty and the same player missed with a drop goal attempt moments before Gaskin’s 80th minute winner.
York, the unbeaten Super League leaders, led 14-10 at half-time through tries by Tamzin Renouf, Stanley - who added a goal - and Sinead Peach.
Shona Hoyle and Luci McColm crossed for Saints in the opening period and Tara Jones’ try, plus Amy Taylor’s second conversion, edged them ahead early in the second half.#
Wigan Warriors: Salihi, Greenfield, Davies, M Jones, Hilton, Banks, Marsh, Speakman, Dwyer, C Jones, Molyneux, Coleman, Thompson. Subs Burrows, Bardsley, Johnson, Hunter.
Leeds Rhinos: Enright, Robinson, Buytcher, Beevers, Moxon, Casey, Greening, Hornby, Bennett, Anderson, Hardcastle, Murray, Dainton. Subs Cudjoe, Glynn, Hayward, Northrop.
Referee: Elliot Burrow (Millom).