Delighted captain Courtney Hill felt “pure heart” kept Leeds Rhinos’ blue and amber ribbons on the Coral Women’s Challenge Cup.
Rhinos retained the trophy with a 16-10 win over Castleford Tigers – who were also runners-up last year – in a thrilling final at University of Bolton Stadium.
Castleford scored first, but Leeds rallied to lead 10-4 before being pegged back to 10-10 at half-time.
Hill’s try and conversion edged Rhinos back in front on the hour and they held on through a tense final quarter.
The skipper also set up Leeds’ first try with a kick for Fran Goldthorp and made some important defensive contributions in a player-of-the-match performance, but insisted it was a team effort.
“I am really proud of the girls, to hold on particularly through that last 15 minutes when we ground out the game,” Hill said.
“I think it was nothing but pure heart in the last 15-20 minutes.”
The decisive breakthrough was made when Hill backed up a run by prop Danielle Anderson from close to Rhinos’ line.
The Aussie scrum-half proved her team-first mentality, answering “which one?” when asked to talk through “that try”.
She said: “Danni Anderson is incredible, for the size of her playing up front.
“She always finds a way to bust through that tackle.
“As soon as I saw her go my eyes lit up and I thought ‘go with her’.
“She timed the offload perfectly to me and my job was easy – run a couple of metres and slide across the wet grass, which is always fun. Danielle Anderson scored that try, I just finished if off.”
Though Rhinos went into the game as holders, Tigers were favourites due to their unbeaten record in all competitions this season and 27-0 victory when Leeds visited the Jungle for a Super League derby three months ago.
Rhinos coach Adam Cuthbertson described his team’s latest triumph as unbelievable”. He said: “I am just so proud of the effort of the girls. We came into the game as underdogs, but I kept feeding them the same message over the last couple of weeks – you’ve got 80 minutes to go out there and you don’t get a second chance at it.
“We talked a lot about sacrifice and I think the girls did that, they went out there and they sacrificed themselves for the cause and for one another. They played selfless which resulted in a great victory.”
Leeds scored three tries to two and kept Tigers – who had beaten Wakefield Trinity 100-0 in their semi-final – scoreless in the second half.
“One thing we talked about was desire to keep turning up for one another,” Cuthbertson revealed.
“The girls all bought in and they kept turning up set after set in defence. Some of those efforts to bundle them into touch when they were looking dead-set certain to score tries was just outstanding. You can’t really coach that, you need the girls to have a genuine buy-in and that desire to keep turning up.”