Warrington Wolves’ clinical second-half performance secured them their third Challenge Cup win in 4 seasons as they beat Leeds Rhinos 35-18 at Wembley.
12-10 to the Wolves at the halftime break, the final was very much in the balance with Leeds dominating in spells as the rain teamed down at Wembley to bring thoughts back to the 1968 ‘Watersplash’ Final where Leeds prevailed in the most heartbreaking and dramatic circumstances against Wakefield.
However, four second half tries and a Lee Briers dropgoal gave Warrington their rewards for an efficient display which rubberstamps their claims to be a champion side and condemned the Rhinos to their third consecutive Wembley defeat meaning they have now lost their last six Cup final appearaces.
A bruising opening to the match saw some big hits early on but it was to be a perfect start for Warrington as they posted the first score on 6 minutes. As the Wolves characteristically kept the ball alive through three offloads, the last found Richie Myler who kicked the ball to the corner acutely finding Joel Monaghan in open space to go over in the corner. Brett Hodgson’s goal making it 6-0 to reflect Warringtton’s very early dominance.
However, Leeds were then able to enjoy much of the territorial battle and had large amounts of the possession. Following back-to-back penalties, the Rhinos got on the board when Ian Kirke forced his way over impressively despite the attentions of the defenders and Kevin Sinfield’s goal made it 6-6 as the rain began thundering down.
Unsurprisingly handling errors became the order of the day for a while and it seemed as if the wet weather was halting the Wolves’ expansive game, with the Rhinos well-renowned for their ability to grind a win out in the rain. After Paul Wood was penalised for punching Carl Ablett, Sinfield slotted over a penalty kick for 8-6.
However, despite Leeds’ territory the never-ceasing attacking threat of Warrington was able to put them back in front on 28 minutes. Michael Monaghan and Richie Myler linked to put Trent Waterhouse over near the line, with the efforts of Jones-Bishop, Watkins and Sinfield not enough to prevent the powerful second-rowman charging over. Hodgson’s kick made it 12-8.
As the half drew towards its end with the match swinging like a pendulum a first moment of controversy came as Joel Monaghan took a Sinfield crossfield kick and raced 60 metres down field only for Warrington to be brought back for claims that Lee Briers had obstructed a Leeds man as the winger challenged for the ball. Sinfield took the penalty goal and the scores were 12-10 at the break with the feeling that it was still anyone’s final.
However, the big turning point came just two minutes into the second half. Leeds thought they had scored through Brett Delaney after a heavy challenge from Kylie Leuluai dislodged the ball from Wolves fullback Hodgson. After a long consultation with the video referee Leuluai’s challenge was considered legal but he was deemed to have knocked in the process, denying the Rhinos their second try.
From this point Warrington never looked back and on the 49th minute stretched their lead with a finely-worked try for Chris Riley. Hodgson’s cut out ball to Atkins put gave the Wolves a a two-on-one with Warrington making the most of the extra man to go over in the corner for 16-10.
And five minutes later the Wolves made it a 12-point lead with eventual man-of-the-match Hodgson producing another excellent cut out ball to find Atkins who went over himself this time for 22-10.
And the lead became 18 as the Wolves had all the momentum against the helpless Rhinos. On the back of a Joel Monaghan break, Ben Weatwood charged towards the line, attracting the defenders and go on to offload inside for Tyrone McCarthy to go over for the Wolves’ fifth.
Briers then added a dropgoal on 62 minues making Leeds need to score 4 times. The Rhinos’ deperation showed as Rob Burrow forced the issue throwing a forward pass after Leeds got the ball from the kick-off. However, a glimmer of hope for Leeds arose as Kallum Watkins went over collecting a measured kick from Zak Hardaker in a move reminiscent of Warrington’s first try of the match to make it 29-14 going into the last 10 minutes.
Leeds attacked the Warrington line again in the next set, hunting for another score but the ball was lost for Ben Harrison to make the counter-break and Leeds’ last hopes had gone.
After Watkins knocked on as Leeds desperately flung ithe ball out wide on the first from a a 20-metre restart, Warrington wrapped it up with aother excellent move. With the ball spread left and the Leeds defence confused by the dummy runners, Hodgson stepped back on the inside as Watkins held off and the fullback went over to score Warrington’s sixth for 35-14 as the players and fans went delirious.
Kallum Watkins’ second provided consolation but it was to be the Wolves’ day at Wembley once more as Leeds suffered heartbreak yet again.
Warrington: Hodgson, Riley, Ratchford, Atkins, J Monaghan, Briers, Myler, Hill, Higham, Carvell, Waterhouse, Westwood, Harrison
Subs: Morley(capt), M Monaghan, Wood, McCarthy
Leeds: Hardaker, Jones-Bishop, Watkins, Ablett, Hall, Sinfield (capt), Ward, Leuluai, Burrow, Peacock, Jones-Buchanan, Delaney, Bailey.
Subs: Kirke, Lunt, Griffin, Keinhorst.