Challenge Cup Final
23 Aug 2014 - 3:00 PM
England's blockbusting winger Ryan Hall grabbed two sensational tries as Leeds finally ended their Challenge Cup final jinx.
The Rhinos, who have acquired a happy knack of winning Super League's Grand Final at Old Trafford, shed their losing habit at Wembley with a 23-10 victory over Castleford in an all-Yorkshire final in front of a 77,914 crowd.
After going through the agony of six consecutive final defeats going back to 1999, Leeds at last got it right on the day, with Hall claiming the top individual award with the Lance Todd Trophy as man of the match.
The 15 stone Hall twice demonstrated his awesome strength and power to provide the highlight, narrowly getting the nod ahead of scrum-half Danny McGuire, with hooker Rob Burrow, skipper Kevin Sinfield and full-back Zak Hardaker also earning votes in a poll dominated by the Rhinos' ageless England internationals.
In emphasising his unofficial title as the world's best winger, Hall became the first player in that position to win the Lance Todd Trophy since Leroy Rivett scored four tries in the Rhinos' win over London Broncos in 1999.
The sheer joy etched on the face of Sinfield as he received the trophy from Castleford legend Malcolm Reilly told the remarkable story of redemption.
Sinfield collected a winners' medal for a brief quarter-final appearance in Leeds' successful run 15 years ago but this time will feel the full satisfaction of leading from the front as he put the missing piece in the jigsaw.
It might also go some way to making up for England's heartbreaking World Cup semi-final defeat on the same Wembley turf nine months earlier.
The result leaves Castleford still looking for their first Cup final triumph since 1986 but it should not diminish their efforts in this, their most successful Super League season to date.
They looked out of it after a below-par first half but roared back after the break to set up a nervous final quarter.
Much interest centred on the fitness of long-serving prop forward Craig Huby, who took his place in the Tigers line-up less than a fortnight after dislocating his left elbow but was unable to make his mark on the game.
Fellow front rower Andy Lynch, on the losing side for the second successive year, set the tone for a disappointing first half for the Tigers when he lost the ball inside his own 20-metre area to enable Leeds to apply all the early pressure.
McGuire was held up over the line and then re-gained possession with a clever grubber kick which created the position for Sinfield to combine with Hardaker and Kallum Watkins to get right winger Tom Briscoe over for the game's first try after only four minutes.
Sinfield kicked the first of his three goals to make it 6-0 but Castleford struck back on 10 minutes when hooker Daryl Clark was the first to reach Marc Sneyd's grubber kick and spun out of Hardaker's tackle to touch down.
Sneyd, who has been pivotal in the Tigers' magnificent season so far, failed with the conversion and went off injured after 26 minutes, by which time Leeds were firmly in control.
McGuire, Super League's most prolific tryscorer, leapt above full-back Luke Dorn, who appeared to have the sun in his eyes, to collect Burrow's high kick to score his first Cup final try on 17 minutes and a 50-metre break from Hardaker set up Hall to grab his amazing solo try.
There was nothing on when Hall accepted McGuire's cut-out pass but he fended off his opposite number Kirk Dixon with one hand and touched the ball down with his other for his first try.
Castleford were fortunate to trail only 16-4 at half-time but they were right back in the game six minutes after the break when skipper Michael Shenton fended off Watkins to break clear and get second rower Oliver Holmes over for their second try.
Liam Finn's goal cut the deficit to just four points and Castleford's hopes rose further when Sneyd returned to the action on 57 minutes.
Stung by their opponents' fightback, Leeds seemed to go into their shell and Sinfield opted to play it safe by kicking for position.
However, there was no way back for the Tigers when Hall grabbed his second try on 66 minutes.
This time the England winger popped up in the centre position to take Paul Aiton's pass and, after sending Finn flying with a devastating hand-off, he took Dorn and Weller Hauraki over the line with him.
When Sinfield's conversion attempt rebounded off both uprights for his third goal to extend his side's lead to 22-12, the Leeds fans knew it was going to be their day and when McGuire put over a drop goal four minutes to go it was celebration time.