LEEDS RHINOS are Women’s Challenge Cup winners in their first year, but Castleford Tigers deserved a share of the glory for their huge contribution to a first-class final.
Rhinos just shaded it, scoring four tries to three in a 20-14 success at Warrington’s HJ Stadium. Tigers’ younger team, though, deservedly led 14-6 at the break and were in with a chance right to the end.
Even after Leeds’ captain Lois Forsell capped a superb, player-of-the-match performance with a try to open a six-point gap deep into stoppage time, Cas had one last attack and were close to taking the game into golden-point.
The defensive commitment from both teams was outstanding in what was a wonderful advertisement for the women’s game.
Forsell, an England international and treble-winner with Bradford Bulls last year, was inspirational for Rhinos, Courtney Hill impressed at half-back and back-rowers Aimee Staveley and Rhiannon Marshall also had big games.
Leeds made far too many errors in the first half, but built pressure after the break and eventually ground Tigers down, if only just. That was despite a huge effort from Tigers full-back Tara Stanley.
Captain Katie Hepworth’s class shone throughout and Georgia Roche was another eye-catching player in a tremendous team effort. Tigers were the better team in the opening 40 minutes and should have been further in front. Leeds started strongly, but lost their way after failing to break Cas’ defence.
Rhinos full-back Charlotte Booth crossed after just four minutes, but the touchdown was ruled out for obstruction. Leeds missed another chance soon afterwards when Hannah Butcher’s pass sent Sophie Robinson clean through, but Stanley stood her ground to make a try-saving tackle.
After defending desperately in the opening stages Tigers began to get a foothold in the game on the back of some penalties and errors from Rhinos.
Stanley’s break was halted by Courtney Hill and then Hepworth chipped over the defence, regathered and offloaded to Sinead Peach, but Rhinos scrambled to hold her up just short of the line.
The defensive commitment from both teams was outstanding in what was a wonderful advertisement for the women’s game.Peter Smith
Booth made a sensational tackle to fell Kelsey Gentles when the winger looked a certain scorer, but Hepworth ducked through from acting-half on the next play to break the deadlock.
Eight minutes before the break Danielle Anderson lost possession trying to clear Rhinos’ line, Hepworth’s kick forced a repeat set and Stanley stepped through for the second try. Neither was converted and Rhinos got back into the game four minutes later.
Frankie Townend’s introduction off the bench got Leeds going forward and following her run, Suze Hill went over at the corner and Courtney Hill landed a tremendous touchline goal. But on the stroke of half-time a Rhinos pass on half-way went to ground and Roche reacted quickly to pick up and then out-pace the chasers for a try which Hepworth converted. Tigers had been error-free and well-disciplined in the first 40, but at the start of the second half Stanley spilled Courtney Hill’s kick, Madison Laverick picked up and Townend almost went over from Butcher’s pass, but was pulled down by Emma Lumley.
That was a superb tackle, but Caitlin Beevers burrowed through from acting-half for an unconverted try on the next play.
Though Tigers were heavily penalised in the third quarter their defence withstood waves of pressure until the hour mark when Aimee Staveley stormed on to a short pass from Forsell to level the scores and Hill’s conversion edged Rhinos ahead.
The two-point margin stood until five minutes into stoppage time when Forsell scored from acting-half. The conversion attempt bounced away off a post and Tigers had a last attack on Leeds’ line, but Rhinos held out.
Castleford Tigers: Stanley, Burton, Pointon, Owen, Gentles, Hetherington, Grace, Eastwood, Peach, Rowley, Hepworth, Weir, Roche. Subs: Cudjoe, Renouf, Field, Lumley, Colley, Tordoff, Mannion.
Leeds Rhinos: Booth, S Hill, Nuttall, Robinson, Beevers, Butcher, C Hill, Johnson, Forsell, Anderson, Staveley, Spurr, Lacey. Subs: Townend, Laverick, Kerrison, Price, Oldroyd.
Referee: Alan Billington.