AN accomplished pianist who is studying an accountancy degree in his spare time and able to master the Rubik’s Cube in just 45 seconds, Ryan Hall is certainly an intelligent sort.
He plays saxophone, too, and you sense, when the prolific 26-year-old Leeds Rhinos winger does inevitably retire from rugby league, he will simply turn his hand to mastering whatever takes his fancy and that could be anything from professional golf to some obscure engineering feat.
Given his brightness, then, it was perhaps no surprise that Hall deflected the glory from himself after his two first-half tries on Saturday set up this fine victory that leads his side to Wembley for a fourth Challenge Cup final in just five years.
The England winger, instead, pointed to an incident just seconds prior to the interval as Leeds defended a 14-0 lead against Warrington Wolves as the seminal moment in this archetypal team success.
“I just do what I’m told to do,” said Hall, when asked about his brace.
“The team needed points on the board and it was nice to get over the line as my tally at the moment isn’t too flattering.
“I hadn’t scored for a while, so it was good to break that run and the second, four minutes before the break, was a good time to score.
“But something that sticks in my mind is Brett Delaney’s tackle (on full-back Matty Russell) right before the hooter.
“He pulled off a great covering tackle, right at the death.
“It looked a certain try, but that’s what this team does – it covers for each other when we need to.”
The intervention Hall refers to was, indeed, crucial as Leeds moved on to face Castleford Tigers hoping to lift the trophy at the seventh time of asking since their last triumph in 1999.
Granted, tireless prop Jamie Peacock had been immense for Brian McDermott’s side, defying the years yet again, while Danny McGuire, as he always seems to do in semi-finals for his hometown, was at his influential best creating two tries, including Hall’s second with a brilliant long pass, and jading their opponents with his punishing kicking game.
England second-row Carl Ablett, too, was a constant menace – in defence and attack – while international colleague Rob Burrow thrived at hooker.
But it was the less heralded Delaney, the heavily-tattooed Australian second-row, who has quietly established himself as one of the West Yorkshire club’s finest overseas recruits, who came up with the play that typified the Leeds resolve which under-pinned it all.
Disappointing Warrington, who had beaten Leeds in the 2010 and 2012 finals, had been abject during the opening 40 minutes, unrecognisable in the manner they continually attempted and failed to make unrealistic passes.
Their handling was, in fact, abysmal and it only invited purposeful Leeds, so slick and efficient, into the contest.
But, for all Rhinos’ possession, they were still only 14-0 ahead when Russell, the dashing Scotland full-back, ignored a clear overlap and instead took on Delaney who, acting like a brick wall, enveloped him with all his usual robustness to negate the threat.
Admittedly, the expected onslaught did arrive in the second period – Warrington could never continue playing so badly – but Leeds reacted positively every time they suffered a setback.
When Chris Bridge scored in the 44th minute, McGuire’s sleight of hand furnished Joel Moon with a classy try soon after and, though Bridge converted Stefan Ratchford’s try on the hour, Leeds just rallied once more as Tom Briscoe picked up another loose Warrington pass and raced in from halfway.
Kevin Sinfield added his fourth goal on his return from suspension meaning Ben Westwood’s late and improved try was rendered meaningless.
Leeds had been excellent in that first half, their dominant pack clearly aiming to atone for a league defeat in May when their forwards had been obviously over-run by Warrington.
McDermott’s tactics were spot on but their only reward was Sinfield’s penalty until Hall’s first try in the 25th minute.
Experienced Joel Monaghan had been switched from centre to wing in place of in-form rookie Gene Ormsby to try quell Hall’s danger but he was powerless, too.
Leeds Rhinos: Hardaker; Briscoe, Watkins, Moon, Hall; McGuire, Sinfield; Peacock, Burrow, Leuluai, Delaney, Ablett, Jones-Buchanan. Substitutes: Aiton, Kirke, Bailey, Sutcliffe.
Warrington Wolves: Russell; J Monaghan, Bridge, Atkins, R Evans; Ratchford, Myler; Hill, M Monaghan, England, Waterhouse, Westwood, Harrison. Substitutes: Asostasi, Wood, Grix, Higham.
Referee: P Bentham (Warrington).