Leeds Rhinos Nostalgia: Relief as Leeds finally end their Challenge Cup final hoodoo
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The previous afternoon marked the end of 15 years of disappointment.
When Rhinos beat Castleford Tigers 23-10 in the Challenge Cup final at Wembley, on August 23, 2014, it was the final piece of the jigsaw for the club’s golden generation.
Since Leeds’ previous success in the competition they had won six Super League titles, two league leaders’ shields and been crowned World Club champions three times – but also lost six Cup finals.
None of the Rhinos’ squad which faced Tigers had won the Cup with Leeds, though Jamie Peacock had twice done it against them, for Bradford Bulls.
While they went on to win at Wembley again the following year, there was a feeling in 2014 that it was now or never for the likes of Kevin Sinfield, who was left out of the side which lost in the 2000 final, but collected a runners-up medal in 2003, 2005, 2010, 2011 and 2012.
Leeds won their opening 2014 tie 60-6 at Wakefield Trinity, beat St Helens 32-12 and struggled to a 25-10 victory over Leigh Centurions in the quarter-finals.
They were underdogs in the semi-finals, but stunned Warrington Wolves 24-16 at St Helens, with Ryan Hall scoring two tries.
Tigers, rebuilding under coach Daryl Powell who was in his second year at the club, visited Headingley a month before the Cup final and drew 24-24 after Sinfield was sent-off for butting Luke Dorn.
That caused a sensation at the time, but Sinfield’s two-match suspension ensured he went into the semi-final and final rested and in good shape.
It was Tigers’ first final since 1992 and they had reached Wembley with a big semi-final win over Widnes Vikings, marred by crowd trouble from the beaten team’s fans following the final hooter.
Castleford also beat Sheffield Eagles and Batley Bulldogs before a stunning quarter-final win at Wigan Warriors.
A crowd of 77,914 watched the final which was settled by a drop goal from Danny McGuire with three minutes remaining which left Castleford needing to score three times.
Ryan Hall won the Lance Todd trophy as man of the match following a two-try performance.
He was the sixth Leeds player to win the award, after Jeff Stevenson, Steve Pitchford, Leroy Rivett, Gary Connolly and Sinfield.
McGuire was two votes behind and Rob Burrow, Zak Hardaker and Sinfield were also nominated.
Castleford lacked big game experience and struggled to come to terms with the occasion.
Tom Briscoe’s try, converted by Sinfield, opened the scoring before Daryl Clark crossed for Tigers.
McGuire and Hall went over before the break, Sinfield adding another goal, to make it 16-4, but Tigers got to within a converted try when Oliver Holmes crossed and Liam Finn converted.
Hall’s second try came with 13 minutes on the clock, Sinfield’s goal opening a 12-point gap.
After the presentation, Leeds coach Brian McDermott described the mood in the winners’ camp as a mixture of “relief and elation”.
He said: “We have been striving for this for so long and to eventually get it is a big feeling.
“We feel like we have delivered something. We have picked up six silver medals and now we have gold. I wasn’t coach for all six cup final losses, but it feels like I was. You feel the mounting pressure, it has been a long journey.”
Powell had played for Leeds in their previous Cup win, in 1999.
He admitted: “We weren’t on our game and we’ll have to learn from it.”
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Thank you, Laura Collins