The trouble, from a rugby league point of view, with the “new” Wembley, is that it has yet to host a Challenge Cup final to compare with many of the matches at the old stadium.
There has not yet been a truly compelling contest; but nor has there been such a hopeless mismatch as Saturday’s 50-0 thrashing. The game feared what Leeds might do to Hull KR if they hit top form. They did that to them and more, with Tom Briscoe profiting most from a disintegrating defence with his record five tries.
The Rhinos did not even need to use every weapon in their armoury. The best counter-attacking full-back in Super League, Zak Hardaker, was for once relatively quiet. Leeds’ frequently devastating off-load game was also largely irrelevant. They dismantled Rovers the easy way, pouring through the centres and outpacing them on the outside.
The result was Wembley’s most one-sided final and Briscoe’s five tries, beating the previous record four, scored by another Leeds winger, Leroy Rivett, 16 years ago against London Broncos.
That achievement was the ruination of Rivett; Briscoe seems less likely to find it a cross to bear. He will also be well aware of the debt he owes to his centre, Kallum Watkins, who kept him so well supplied with the sort of ball wingers love.
His first two tries took a good deal of scoring; the remaining three were increasingly a case of Watkins pointing him at Rovers’ crumbling castle and watching another breach open up in its walls.
The Leeds coach, Brian McDermott, had special praise for the back three of his pack – Carl Ablett, Stevie Ward and Brett Delaney – for snuffing out anything the Robins had to offer by way of resistance. “Wherever you looked, they were there, making the tough tackles,” McDermott said.
Most people, however, will remember the game for adding substance to the claim that this is Leeds’ best three-quarter line of all-time. Certainly, the early-1970s foursome that would be their only rivals never ran amok at Wembley the way their successors did.
There were a number of reasons why Rovers proved so horribly vulnerable to everything that the Rhinos threw at them. One was that Kieran Dixon had the sort of game at full-back that will give him recurring nightmares. His series of handling mistakes were what put Leeds in such complete control.
With four forwards on the bench – as is almost always the modern way – there was no scope for taking him out of the firing line. To his credit, Dixon – born in nearby Hackney – never stopped trying. He was guilty of trying too hard, in fact, and the harder he tried the worse it got.
It is almost a Wembley tradition for full-backs to have the sort of torrid afternoon that appears career-threatening at the time. Some, like Gary Connolly, recover to have outstanding careers, but I would not have wanted to try to persuade him of that yesterday morning.
The shell-shocked Rovers’ coach, Chris Chester, was adamant afterwards that Albert Kelly had been 100 per cent fit after his knee injury. That was not the way it looked. Although he asked some questions with his kicking, he kept his running to the minimum. “He’s a tough kid, a brave kid and we needed a few more brave kids out there,” Chester said.
His task now is to make sure that the scale of this embarrassment does not poison the Robins’ attempts to stay in Super League.
Leeds could have a back-lash of a different sort after such a resounding triumph, but they have the class to go on and win Super League as well.Reuse content