Leeds will get another chance to end a millennium of frustration when they go to Wembley next month. Since last winning the Challenge Cup in 1999, the Rhinos have lost in five finals. Now, against all expectations, they are in a sixth, thanks to a 39-28 victory over Wigan on Saturday.
Their captain, Kevin Sinfield, whose leadership was a decisive factor, claims that Leeds will not be haunted by their record. "We want to go there and deserve to win, because those five times, at Wembley and Cardiff, we haven't deserved it," he said. Man-of-the-match Sinfield has been kicking sides to death for over a decade, but he has rarely put boot to ball with better effect than he did at Huddersfield.
He gave credit to his forwards for winning the battle in the middle of the field; the way his outside backs cashed in was the other key ingredient. This was a semi-final of remarkably open, attacking rugby, but the man who might have been expected to thrive most on that became its main scapegoat.
The Cup-holders and Super League leaders never fully recovered from the two mistakes by Sam Tomkins that helped Leeds to a 16-point lead in the first 11 minutes.
"Sam made two decisions he's never made in his life," said his coach, Shaun Wane. "We saved our worst performance for our biggest game of the season."
No one could have tried harder than Tomkins to repair the damage, but the Rhinos were always the more effective side.
"Five weeks ago they beat us by 50," said Sinfield. "To turn that around was a great effort."
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