Almost 11,000 fans brave the rain to welcome the Tetley’s Challenge Cup back to Headingley Carnegie Stadium for the first time since 1999.
Triumphant Leeds Rhinos players were “overwhelmed” by the turnout, which filled the Carnegie and North Stands today, as they celebrated their 23-10 Wembley victory over neighbours Castleford Tigers.
The homecoming crowd was the biggest seen at Headingley since Leeds’ previous Challenge Cup final triumph, in 1999.
The players and staff involved in Leeds’ 12th Challenge Cup victory were introduced to the crowd individually, before key figures were interviewed on a stage erected on the pitch.
Rhinos had lost their previous six Cup finals and captain Kevin Sinfield admitted Saturday’s success - which means he has now led Leeds to every available honour - has “not sunk in yet”.
He told the crowd: “I didn’t know what to expect.
“I thought there would be a few here, like there has been for Grand Final celebrations, but I have never seen anything like this.”
Popular forward Jamie Jones-Buchanan admitted he was stunned by the attendance and coach Brian McDermott said the Wembley win was for the club’s fans, as much as the players.
“The fans have been hurting and I could not be more pleased for everyone who came down to the game,” McDermott said.
“Thanks for your support, but we aren’t finished yet.”
Rhinos face First Utility Super League leaders St Helens on Friday in their final home game of the regular season and McDermott said the focus now is on a return to Old Trafford and regaining their Grand Final trophy.
Meanwhile, an estimated 3,500 Tigers supporters welcomed their team back to Mend-a-Hose Jungle yesterday, before an official civic reception.
It was Castleford’s first Challenge Cup final appearance for 22 years.