WAIT AGES for a Challenge Cup final victory and then two come along at once.
Holders Leeds Rhinos went into the Wembley showpiece against Hull KR as odds-on favourites, but were even more dominant than the bookies had expected.
They were given a 16-point start on the handicap and had matched that before the end of the opening quarter, en-route to retaining the trophy for the third time in their history.
The 50-0 whitewash was too one-sided to be a good final, but that’s not Rhinos’ fault. They did what they had to. Castleford Tigers froze on the big occasion 12 months ago – when Rhinos won the Cup for the first time in 15 years – but Hull KR were like rabbits caught in headlights.
Those headlights were attached to a juggernaut and Rhinos’ performance underlined the fact they are, by some distance, the best team in the British game on current form.
Leeds weren’t great in the first half, but moved into another gear after the break to set a host of Challenge Cup final records on rugby league’s 120th birthday.
The headlines belonged to Tom Briscoe, who became the second successive Rhinos winger to win the Lance Todd Trophy as man of the match.
Briscoe scored Leeds’ third try, on 18 minutes, Zak Hardaker and Kallum Watkins combining to put him over after Ryan Hall powerfully returned the re-start following Leeds’ second score. That made it 16-0 and Briscoe added a spectacular touchdown soon after half-time to kill Rovers’ hopes of a fightback.
That was a cracker; he caught Maurice Blair’s cross-kick almost on his own line, got past Kieran Dixon and raced the length of the field before carrying Ken Sio over the whitewash with him.
With 14 minutes left he became only the seventh player to score a Cup final hat-trick, finishing well from Kallum Watkins’ pass.
That list included Leeds flier Leroy Rivett’s four touchdowns against London Broncos in 1999. Briscoe matched that off another Watkins pass with five minutes to go.
And then Dixon lost the ball in a tackle by Carl Ablett and Kevin Sinfield and Danny McGuire scooped up to send Briscoe in to complete a nap hand.
Referee Ben Thaler thought it was a try, but sent it upstairs for video duo Richard Silverwood and James Child to check and they gave the green light.
So, the Lance Todd trophy winners in Rhinos’ last three Challenge Cup final victories have all been wingers, with a total of 11 tries between them.
The 50-point winning margin was the biggest in a final, eclipsing Rhinos’ 52-16 hammering of London and Briscoe matched the record 20 points scored by Neil Fox for Wakefield Trinity against Hull in 1960 and Iestyn Harris 16 years ago.
Leeds’ nine tries also equalled the previous team best, set by Huddersfield against St Helens in 1915 and Rhinos in their 1999 romp.
Sinfield captained Leeds for the seventh time in a final – yet another competition record – but his seven goals fell one short of the total by Cyril Kellett for Featherstone Rovers against Bradford in 1973 and Harris.
Rhinos had not kept a clean sheet since a 56-0 thrashing of Castleford in August 2011, but never really looked like conceding, though Rovers managed to apply some late pressure.
It was a magnificent defensive effort and the way they protected their goal line in the final quarter was a credit to their ruthless nature.
Voting for the Lance Todd trophy took place moments after Briscoe’s third try. McGuire almost hit a gap to the line second before Briscoe crossed and had he done, that would have earned him some votes.
McGuire scored the second try when he finished off good work by Jamie Peacock and Joel Moon.
With Sinfield standing in at acting-half, he played as a long half-back for much of the time and was outstanding the midfield for Leeds.
Watkins made a big contribution in the backs, but the forwards laid the platform. Selecting Adam Cuthbertson at No 9 allowed boss Brian McDermott to field an extra prop and the tactic worked.
Cuthbertson’s offloads had Rovers had pedalling from the early stages and Peacock, who was involved in the first two tries and Mitch Garbutt also turned in big shifts.
Peacock would have scored the opener, but the ball was stripped by Kevin Larroyer, allowing the alert Brett Delaney to touch down. Rhinos rescued Garbutt from lower grade rugby in Australia, but he was very highly rated before an ill-fated move from Melbourne Storm to Brisbane Broncos and is showing why. He has proved an excellent mid-season addition.
The game’s unsung hero was Stevie Ward, who missed out on last year’s final. There was a worrying moment after less than two minutes when he seemed to take a bang to a shoulder, but he played on and was a huge presence in attack and defence.
Brad Singleton confirmed his arrival as a senior player with his first Wembley appearance, capped by a Wembley try when he crashed over from Rob Burrow’s pass.
And Mitch Achurch, 18th man last year, was preferred on the bench to Jimmy Keinhorst and justified his selection with a strong cameo in the second half.
Burrow had to wait his usual 47 minutes to get into the action, but came on when Rovers were running out of steam and spirit.
He ran them ragged and backed up some evasiveness from Watkins in the centre of the field to race over for a well deserved try seven minutes from time.
He was hurt in the process and, for the second year running, had to watch the final moments from the sidelines, but could reflect on a job well done.
As could referee Thaler, in his first major final. He awarded five penalties – two to Rhinos in the first half and one after the break – and was hardly noticed.
Credit also to McDermott. It was his second Cup final victory as team boss, to go with two Super League titles and a World Club Challenge. He is the club’s most successful coach and seems to have finally instilled some consistency in the league, which has Rhinos on track for an historic treble.
They will achieve that if they maintain current form and, by winning the Challenge Cup, have already qualified for the 2016 World Club series.
It was a final which will be warmly remembered by Rhinos fans, if not many others, but its lasting image came before kick-off when Lizzie Jones, widow of Keighley Cougars’ Danny Jones who died during a game in June, led the singing of Abide with Me in a moment of almost painful poignancy.