Stevie Ward looks for teenage kicks at Wembley

 

The positive influence of youth could be the key for Leeds as they try to conclude some unfinished business in today's Challenge Cup final.

The 18-year-old prodigy, Stevie Ward, will be the youngest finalist since Francis Cummins played for them at Wembley at the age of 17 in 1994. Leeds last won the game's oldest trophy in 1999 and since then have lost five finals.

That means that none of the "blue-and-amber generation" of gifted Rhinos players have lifted the Cup – apart from Jamie Peacock in his Bradford days. "It's not something we talk about every day, but, yes, it would be special," said the Leeds captain, Kevin Sinfield.

Ward has been saddled with the tag of the new Kevin Sinfield, but the original believes that he is well capable of carrying that burden.

"There are some comparisons, because we were both here at 18, playing and doing our A-levels. In fact, I can't imagine another 18-year-old in the country who could have done what Stevie has done these last few months," Sinfield said.

That includes pulling out of the England Academy tour to Australia, in order to stay in Yorkshire and compete for a Cup final place.

"It was a very difficult decision for him, but it shows how single-minded he is," said Sinfield.

Ward is not only earmarked for a starting role against Warrington, he also has to take over at stand-off from an injured potential match-winner like Danny McGuire.

It is a heavy responsibility on young shoulders, but his captain has no doubt that he can carry it. "At 18, you've got no fear," Sinfield said.

"Wembley takes your breath away, although I've been here twice as a fan," said Ward at the traditional familiarisation visit yesterday.

Significantly, he is rooming with McGuire, so that some of the latter's big-match experience might rub off.

Another big decision the Leeds coach, Brian McDermott, has had to make concerns the full-back position. Zak Hardaker has been such a success since being moved there that it is surely unthinkable that he could be left out for the more experienced Brent Webb today.

Warrington's Tony Smith has also had to weigh his options, although in their case it has been more a matter of who to leave out. The unluckiest man is Chris Bridge, a Cup-winner in 2009, but omitted this time.

That means a starting berth at right centre for Stefan Ratchford, signed from Salford last winter. Injuries gave him a slow start to his Warrington career, but his recent form has been compelling.

Another new face in the Wolves ranks this afternoon is Chris Hill, a relative latecomer to Super League after being recruited from Leigh, but one who has adapted rapidly.

No less an authority than the Warrington captain, Adrian Morley, has described him as the club's form prop of recent weeks.

The Wolves will start as favourites to win their third Challenge Cup in four years, but there is a lingering suspicion that Leeds are destined one August day at Wembley to make up for all their disappointments.

One thing that is difficult to imagine is it being a dull final. In their different styles, both sides are keen to play expansive rugby.

Rugby league could use a successful showpiece. The continuing crisis at Bradford, not to mention the uncertainty over the London Broncos' future plans, has put a big, black cloud on the Super League horizon.

The game could use a sparkling final as rarely before, if only as confirmation that it remains a lot healthier on the pitch than on the balance sheet.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
News
i100(More than you think)
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Arts and Entertainment
John Hurt will voice Prince Bolkonsky in Radio 4's War and Peace
radioRadio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?