THE FACT key players are leaving at the end of the season made retaining the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup extra special for Leeds Rhinos full-back Zak Hardaker.
The 50-0 win over Hull KR ensured Kevin Sinfield, Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai have all played in a winning final in their last season at the club.
Hardaker said he was “over the moon” at a second successive Cup triumph and he said: “It’s the second time we’ve won and third time I’ve been here and I am absolutely ecstatic.
“For the guys who are leaving it means so much more, but the special bond we have in that changing room will never be broken. Everyone has a massive, massive smile on their face and it’s very exciting.”
Hardaker felt it was a near-perfect performance. He said: “We had a plan and to nil any team is quite an effort and to 50-0 them is something else. Hull KR are no slouches, they have great attacking abilities and great individuals who can cause you problems, but today it didn’t pay off for them.
“There were a few try-saving tackles by various players and I thought we played really well throughout the 80 minutes. In the big games that’s what you need to do. Everyone was buzzing afterwards, because they knew we had put our heart and soul into it.”
Australian forward Adam Cuthbertson has picked up silverware in his first season at Leeds and he described Saturday as “something special”. He said: “Mitch [Garbutt] and I have been taking the mickey out of Kevin Sinfield, saying how easy is this to win? I’ve had 28 games and Mitch has had eight.
“But we have learned a lot from the other boys, during the week and all season. We knew we couldn’t take anything for granted, we had to come out firing and really flex our muscles. In the first 20 we didn’t want to do too much with the ball, we just wanted to cart it up and get a hold of the game with our running game. We started with four forwards and it was a good move from Mac [coach Brian McDermott] to do that.
“I came here to have a great season, enjoy my time and try and win some trophies, so it has been an absolute pleasure from the start up to now and hopefully we can back this up.”