What was supposed to be a classic Wembley final turned out to be one of the most one-sided, with Warrington entirely convincing in retaining the Challenge Cup.
Chris Hicks claimed a rare Wembley hat-trick, the first since the Leeds Rhinos wing Leroy Rivett grabbed four in the last final at the old Wembley. Ryan Atkins – one of the players they have added since last year's triumph over Huddersfield – got two and Louis Anderson scored the last.
But it was the craft of the stand-off Lee Briers that won him the Lance Todd Trophy as man of the match in a landslide vote. He had an influential role in four of those six tries and generally bossed the show in midfield to set the stage for the Wolves to dominate.
Leeds, desperate for their first Challenge Cup this millennium, made too many mistakes and missed too many tackles – Warrington are not going to be beaten at Wembley by a team that does that. They failed to respond to the atmosphere generated by a sell-out crowd and it is no exaggeration to say that they could have lost by more.
The absence of the injured Jamie Peacock, a player who could conceivably have lifted the team, was all too obvious. Compared with Warrington's decision to leave out Richie Myler, Leeds' choice of the 20-year-old novice, Chris Clarkson, to start in the second row was not exactly cataclysmic. It was, though, a huge vote of confidence in a player who was completely unknown this time last year. Carl Ablett was on the bench after his three match suspension and, as expected, Ali Lauitiiti was the Rhinos forward to miss out.
Both sides committed an early blunder, Danny Buderus fumbling Briers' kick-off and Atkins squandering that possession by being forced into touch on the first tackle.
Leeds then had a period of pressure which could have brought them an opening try, but which only saw Ryan Bailey held up over the line. The strain was only eased by another handling error from the vastly experienced Buderus – and then it was time for a short, sharp masterclass from Briers.
It was his kick across field after 13 minutes that found Atkins (below) in acres of space between Brett Delaney and Kevin Sinfield. The centre made the cleanest of catches and Warrington were on their way.
Almost immediately, Briers pinned Leeds back with a 40-20 kick and then through the long pass that released Matt King on the right wing. Hicks had the acumen to scissor inside him and although Ben Westwood failed with a second conversion by hitting a post Warrington were already in a commanding position.
Leeds threatened twice through Ryan Hall but once he was magnificently tackled into touch by Westwood and once was brought back for Brent Webb's forward pass.
The Rhinos, however, were about to turn attack into hapless defence. From Danny McGuire's high kick Chris Riley picked up and counterattacked. When he was stopped, Atkins found a scandalous gap between Hall and Ian Kirke to go the rest of the way, with Westwood adding the simple goal.
The Wolves really only needed one try in the second half to make it safe and they almost got it immediately when the scrambling Rob Burrow narrowly prevented King from touching down Westwood's kick.
That was only delaying the inevitable. After twice holding up Delaney behind their line with typically tenacious defence, Warrington delivered the killer blow. Again it was Briers' pin-point kick, with Hicks doing brilliantly to catch and ground the ball under pressure from Hall.
Leeds avoided the ignominy of becoming the first side since St Helens, against Wigan in 1989, to be nilled in a Cup final when Lee Smith forced his way over from McGuire's pass. The improvement in their situation was merely cosmetic. After Richie Mathers had had a try disallowed against his old club for a technical obstruction, the Wolves finished them off without mercy. Hicks completed his hat-trick on the end of a move initiated yet again by Briers and then Louis Anderson completed the rout from Mathers' one-handed pass.
It had not quite been the epic that many predicted, but it had been an epic display by a Warrington side treating the Cup as their own.
The most sincere compliment that can be paid to them is to repeat what used to be said about Wigan when they monopolised the trophy – that it will take a very good side to take it from them. On the day, Leeds were anything but that.
Leeds Webb; Smith, Delaney, Senior, Hall; McGuire, Burrow; Leuluai, Buderus, Bailey, Jones-Buchanan, Clarkson, Sinfield. Substitutes used: Diskin, Ablett, Eastwood, Kirke.
Warrington Mathers; Hicks, King, Atkins, Riley; Briers, Monaghan; Morley, Clarke, Carvell, L Anderson, Westwood, Harrison. Substitutes used: Higham, Solomona, Wood, V Anderson.
Referee R Silverwood (Mirfield).
Tries: Atkins 2, L Anderson, Hicks 3
Goals: Westwood 3
Attendance 85,217Reuse content