ENDING LEEDS Rhinos’ Challenge Cup barren steak was a “big, big feeling” for coach Brian McDermott.
Rhinos’ 23-10 win over Castleford Tigers at Wembley two days ago brought the trophy back to Headingley Carnegie for the first time since 1999.
Leeds had lost six finals since their previous victory and McDermott said: “It is massive, because we – the club – have been striving for that for so long.
“To eventually get it, it is a big, big feeling. I don’t know whether it is a sense of relief or elation, I am not sure, but they are an emotional group at the moment, the players. Personally I feel like I have delivered something. The fans have endured every tackle and carry we’ve been involved with in Challenge Cup finals and for six of them we’ve picked up the silver version of the medal.
“Today we picked up the gold version and that’s a big feeling. While I have not coached every once of those six losses, you feel it. You feel that mounting pressure.”
Of Rhinos’ performance, McDermott said: “I thought we were in control of the game, but never really got away with it, never really felt comfortable.
“Castleford are a great team and they proved it in the second half. A couple of plays here and there and they scored a try and it was game on.
“But I felt we didn’t really let go of that game throughout. Credit to Danny McGuire and Kevin Sinfield and Rob Burrow, they managed it really, really well.”
Winger Ryan Hall scored two tries in a Lance Todd Trophy-winning man of the match performance, which McDermott described as “freakish”.
Added the team boss: “He did it in the semi-final against Joel Monaghan.
“You know what he’s going to do, but you have to stop him.
“He is a big, strong fella.”
McDermott also paid tribute to his back-three of Carl Ablett, Brett Delaney and Jamie Jones-Buchanan and to the impact made by substitutes Ryan Bailey, Ian Kirke, Paul Aiton and teenager Liam Sutcliffe.
Sinfield has now captained Leeds in a record-equalling six Challenge Cup finals and to every available honour: Challenge Cup, Grand Final, World Club Challenge and league leaders’ shield.
“It is right up there,” he said of his emotions after the game.
“To lose five has been horrible, so to finally get our hands on it is really special. It is great for our coaching team, the players and the club and our friends and family. Our supporters have had to keep coming down here, spending their hard earned money and then drive back up the M1 disappointed and disillusioned with how we’ve performed.
“This is about perseverance as a group, as a club and by a lot of people out there, who hopefully we have sent home smiling. I don’t think it erases those five or six defeats, but it is certainly a special moment.”
Sinfield added: “This wasn’t about Champagne rugby, it was about a ruthless performance and a game plan we executed as well as we could as a group, masterminded by Brian and the other coaches. Brian deserves a lot of credit and I’m delighted for him. We got a bit twitchy when it was 16-10 for a while. Perhaps in the past we may have gone away from the plan, but we stuck to it and got the game.”
Rhinos’ medical staff are checking on McGuire, who required hospital treatment after suffering rib damage late in the game.