Tom Briscoe’s record five tries illuminated Wembley’s most one-sided final as Leeds showed why they should win everything this season.
The England international’s clinical finishing was only the highlight of an overpowering display by the holders. “It’s pretty incredible,” he said. “I didn’t even know about the record until someone came up to me after the match.”
If it was a triumph for the Rhinos’ wingman, however, it was an unmitigated nightmare for Rovers’ Kieran Dixon, who was exposed in the way that only a full-back can be in a Challenge Cup final.
His blunders helped Leeds to Wembley’s biggest winning margin, beating the 36 by which they beat the London Broncos in 1999. Leroy Rivett’s four tries that day were the previous record that was swept away by Briscoe.
Rovers’ coach, Chris Chester, refused to blame the unfortunate Dixon for his side’s collapse. “It’s a team sport, and we weren’t good enough from one to 13,” he said. “Kieran Dixon has been very good this season.”
Chester had answered the questions about the composition of his team by naming Albert Kelly at scrum-half, despite what was described at the time as a season-ending knee injury three weeks ago, and preferring the mercurial Londoner, Dixon, to Ben Cockayne. It was a decision that was to come back to bite him.
It was also a bitter blow to one of the most whole-hearted players in the game, but that and many other minor disasters were set in context by the sight and sound of Lizzie Jones, the widow of Danny Jones, who died playing for Keighley this year, singing “Abide With Me”.
Wembley has always been associated with acts of heroism, another facet of which was displayed by the unveiling yesterday of a statue of five of the Cup final’s “greats” within a long drop-kick of the likeness of Bobby Moore that graces the stadium’s concourse.
The Robins’ early tactics were quite clear as Kelly, his right knee heavily strapped, put in a series of low kicks designed to deny Leeds’ full-back, Zak Hardaker, the chance to run on to them.
That worked well enough within its own modest ambitions; unfortunately, down at the other end of the pitch, Rovers’ defence did not. It leaked 16 points in 12 minutes to kill the game as a contest before it had properly begun. Jamie Peacock, in his last Cup final, was the first to find a weakness. Kevin Larroyer managed to strip the ball from him as he crossed the try-line, only for it to fall conveniently for Brett Delaney to touch down.
If that was a scrappy try, the next two showed the Rhinos at their best. Peacock and Joel Moon made the running to set up Danny McGuire for a try with which to celebrate his 400th game for his only club.
Then Ryan Hall and Carl Ablett put Leeds on the attack yet again, and Kallum Watkins’ clever pass and Briscoe’s angled run from the touchline added to the damage.
Kevin Sinfield (left), the other Leeds colossus bidding farewell to Wembley, hit the post with his conversion attempt, having landed the previous two.
Rovers were visibly rocked and, although the Rhinos quietened down a little for the rest of the half, their opponents could do nothing to get back into the match.
The closest they came was an instinctive little run and kick from Dixon just before the interval, but, in truth, like their performance throughout, in the end it amounted to precious little.
Brian McDermott, Leeds’ head coach, admitted to criticising his men at half-time for being too conservative with the ball. They were soon to put that right.
Two errors from Dixon got the Robins’ second half off to a predictably shaky start, with the onset of rain clearly playing a part, but the next try they conceded was a cruel one. Maurice Blair put up a high kick, Briscoe plucked it out of the air and went 90 metres for his second try. No legislating for that.
The same could not be said for a routine dummy-half pass from Rob Burrow that put Brad Singleton over. It was now getting embarrassing, not just for half of Humberside but also for the whole of a sport that likes to put on a show at Wembley.
The record winning margin in a final was beckoning when Briscoe went in for his third, thanks to a lovely ball supplied by Watkins. One equally good from the same source sent Burrow away for a try that had looked inevitable from the moment he had come into the game.
Briscoe’s fourth featured more high-calibre build-up play from the gifted Watkins, before the wretched Dixon dropped yet another ball and Briscoe claimed his fifth. When the final hooter sounded it was a merciful release for a totally outclassed team.
Leeds: Hardaker; Briscoe, Watkins, Moon, Hall; Sinfield, McGuire; Garbett, Cuthbertson, Peacock, Ward, Ablett, Delaney.
Replacements: Burrow, Singleton, Achurch, Leuluai.
Hull KR: Dixon; Mantellato, Salter, Welham, Sio; Blair, Kelly; Walker, Lunt, Puletua, Larroyer, Horne, McCarthy
Replacements: Boudebza, Donaldson, Tilse, Allgood.
Referee: Ben Thaler.