THE heartache goes on for Leeds Rhinos after they made Wembley history with a third consecutive Carnegie Challenge Cup final defeat as Warrington lifted the trophy for the third time in four years.
The Rhinos threatened to end their 13-year wait to get their hands on the famous silverware when they led 8-6 after 23 minutes, but a scoring burst of three tries in 10 minutes early in the second half provided decisive.
Leeds are masters of the Super League, with five Grand Final wins in eight years, but the Challenge Cup continues to elude them as they succumbed to a sixth final defeat since their 1999 win over London Broncos.
The game, which drew a 79,180 crowd, had been fiercely contested and was finely balanced until Warrington, having benefited from a crucial decision by video referee Phil Bentham to disallow a Leeds try early in the second half, cut loose with veteran full-back Brett Hodgson leading the way in a man-of-the-match performance.
Hodgson supplied the final passes to the key tries and scored the last of his side’s six touchdowns as well as kicking five goals to claim the prestigious Lance Todd Trophy, three years after he was on the losing side in Huddersfield’s Wembley defeat by the Wolves.
The Rhinos fans must have feared a repeat of their 30-6 mauling from 2010 when Warrington winger Joel Monaghan opened the scoring just six minutes into the action.
Smart offloads from Ben Harrison and Chris Hill created an opening for scrum-half Richie Myler, who had the vision to spot Monaghan in space out on the right flank and found him with a pinpoint kick.
Hodgson’s angled conversion made it 6-0 and they might have doubled their score had the full-back provided a more accurate final pass to second rower Ben Westwood after piercing the first line of defence.
But Leeds had already shown signs that this was not going to be a walkover, with former England captain Jamie Peacock setting a tremendous early example with two storming runs through the heart of the Wolves defence.
Back-to-back penalties got the Rhinos into the danger zone and substitute forward Ian Kirke took skipper Kevin Sinfield’s pass to barge past three defenders and stretch out of the tackle to score his first try for 14 months.
Sinfield levelled the scores with the conversion, just before a torrential downpour, and edged his side in front four minutes later with a penalty awarded for a punch by Paul Wood on Carl Ablett.
The rain threatened to ruin the game, with Warrington’s Hill and Trent Waterhouse both spilling possession, but a run of penalties against the Yorkshiremen helped produce another momentum shift.
As the rain disappeared as quickly as it had arrived, slick handling by Michael Monaghan and Myler got Waterhouse into his stride and he proved unstoppable from 10 metres out.
Hodgson’s second goal made it 12-8 but Sinfield pulled two points back with a second penalty on the stroke of half-time and Leeds thought they had re-taken the lead early in the second half.
When Hodgson lost possession in a crunching tackle from Rhinos prop Kylie Leuluai while attempting to clear his line, second rower Brett Delaney picked up the loose ball and touched down.
The video referee ruled out any foul play but disallowed the try for a knock-on and Warrington made the most of the let-off with two quickfire tries, with Hodgson quickly recovering from the heavy blow to supply both final passes.
Leeds found themselves under intolerable pressure after conceding successive goal-line drop-outs and it told when Hodgson combined with Ryan Atkins to get winger Chris Riley over on 49 minutes.
Five minutes later, following another drop-out, Warrington again attacked the Leeds right and Hodgson’s long pass enabled Atkins to go over.
The Wolves were oozing with confidence by then and four minutes later substitute Tyrone McCarthy went over for his side’s fifth try after Westwood squeezed out a pass from a tackle close to the line.
Briers put his side four scores in front with a drop goal and Hodgson went through a tiring Leeds defence for a deserved try, rendering later tries from Rhinos centre Kallum Watkins little more than consolation.