Challenge Cup final display bodes well for Leeds Rhinos’ new season insists Zoe Hornby

PLAYER-OF-the-match Zoe Hornby was upbeat about Leeds Rhinos’ prospects for the season following their Betfred Women’s Challenge Cup final defeat by St Helens.

By Peter Smith
Sunday, 8th May 2022, 4:45 pm

Hornby scored Leeds’ try – the only one Saints have conceded in six games this year – and was voted the final’s best player by members of the media, despite finishing on the losing team.

Leeds led 8-4 at half-time and were only six points adrift until Saints sealed an 18-8 win with a try two minutes from time.

Missed chances proved costly, but Rhinos matched Saints – last year’s treble winners – for most of a tense contest and Hornby reckons they can go into the Betfred Super League campaign, which begins this weekend, in buoyant mood.

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Leeds Rhinos' Zoe Hornby celebrates her try against St Helens in the Challenge Cup final. Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com.

The loose-forward insisted: “I feel like we played well as a team and we did well to do what we set out to do at the start.

“It is a tough one to take, but that’s not all we’ve got this season. We’ve got a lot more to give and I think that will show.”

Hornby played in Rhinos’ 28-0 Grand Final defeat by Saints in October and felt Saturday’s performance showed how far they have come.

“I think we have got a lot more depth in our squad this season,” she stated.

Zoe Hornby is congratulated by her Leeds Rhinos team-mates after scoring her try against St Helens. Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com.

“That definitely showed and I think we have got a bit more confidence about ourselves.

“We have done a lot of team bonding and cohesion and I think it really showed on the field.

“We have definitely improved since last season. I think everyone in our team should hold their head high.”

Rhinos are expected to be Saints’ closest challengers in the league and Hornby reckons they will get better as the league campaign goes on.

“We always go back and look at what we can improve on on the pitch, but also off it,” she said.

“It is a long season ahead and we have got the World Cup coming up. There’s a lot of players working towards that and all we can do is offer them the best-possible support, by going out and playing good rugby against good sides. We have definitely got a lot more to give.”

The Cup final attendance of 5,888 – taken after 65 minutes – was a record for a women’s game in this country and Hornby described the experience of playing at Elland Road as “incredible”.

The women’s game was a curtain-raiser to the men’s semi-finals and Hornby said: “We came down and saw the stadium [on Friday] and that was incredible, but having a record-breaking crowd in there was amazing.

“It was one of those experiences I will never forget. It is great for the women’s game, we do it not just for ourselves, we want to inspire the younger generation.

“There were a lot of those children [at the game] and hopefully they’ll take something away from it and aspire to be us and that will promote women’s rugby league over the next few years.”

On a personal note, Hornby refused to take credit for her touchdown, but admitted she was pleased with her own performance.

“I was really happy, it was a good team try,” she said. “I just spotted the gap and thought ‘give me the ball’ and just went for it – I was buzzing.”

Of being named player of the match, she added: “It was disbelief, it took me a minute to realise, then all the team were cheering me on and that was realisation for me of where I am and who I am playing for.

“That was phenomenal. I went out and did what I was told to do. You always come off thinking you could have done more, but in these games you just go out and do what you can. I did think I reached my targets, but every game I will push to do more.”