Three tries in the space of ten second half minutes ensured a third Challenge Cup in four years for Warrington, while Leeds' wait for the trophy they want most of all goes on. A game too tight to call at half-time was blown open in a way that owed much to the deceptive toughness of the stick-thin, 34-year-old veteran Warrington full-back, Brett Hodgson.
Four minutes into the second half, Hodgson was laid out by a tackle from Kylie Leuluai that would have signalled the end of the match for more obviously durable players. "I was trying to get out of his way," Hodgson said. "Kylie's a champion bloke and there was absolutely nothing wrong with the tackle."
He lost the ball and the Wolves could have lost the match if Brett Delaney's touch-down had been allowed. Instead, the video referee, Phil Bentham, after interminable replays, ruled no try, no foul, but a knock-on in each direction. Warrington soon had possession back and then never looked back.
"I thought that was a big, big part of the second half," said the Leeds coach, Brian McDermott. "We conceded three tries in a short time and we have to be better."
Within three minutes, Hodgson had dusted himself off and provided the pass to Ryan Atkins that opened the way for Chris Riley to score in the corner.
There was little chance to recover from that before Hodgson put Atkins away and when Ben Westwood got a pass away as he went to ground, for the lavishly-bearded Tyrone McCarthy to score, Leeds were clearly on their way to their sixth Cup final defeat since they last won it in 1999.
To their credit, after Lee Briers' drop-goal, they finished defiantly with two tries in the last ten minutes from Kallum Watkins. Even those were split by a celebratory try from Hodgson. "He's not the biggest, quickest or strongest full-back, or even the best-looking, but he knows how to play footy," said the Warrington coach, Tony Smith. "He was terrific for us. He copped a pounding today."
Not surprisingly, the Australian won the Lance Todd Trophy as man of the match. On another day, it could have gone to Richie Myler, who had an outstanding game at scrum-half.
"It is very humbling to receive such an honour," said Hodgson. "It is going to be something I look back on with great admiration and I am very excited and honoured to accept it."
As they had hoped, Leeds were able to field the elusive Rob Burrow, after an injury scare. They sprang a surprise, however, by also naming Jimmy Keinhorst, a second year student at Leeds Met and the first German to appear in a Challenge Cup final. With just three substitute appearances behind him, Keinhorst became one of the least experienced Wembley finalists ever.
Warrington raised a few eyebrows by starting with their captain, Adrian Morley, on the bench, but that was merely proof that rugby league these days truly is a 17-man game.
The opening stages were mainly notable for a couple of driving runs from Jamie Peacock and for Garreth Carvell's late tackle on Kevin Sinfield, after he had got his kick away. The first time Warrington attacked, however, they scored. Chris Hill, starting ahead of Morley, created the threat with a neat offload to Richie Myler.
Myler is not one of the Wolves' more regular kicking options, but the sight of Joel Monaghan unmarked on the right wing was enough to encourage him to launch one in that direction, safely received for the game's first try. Warrington conceded too many early penalties and were punished when Ian Kirke went over from close range for the equalising score. When Paul Wood was identified throwing a punch amid a fracas, Sinfield kicked the Rhinos ahead.
When Warrington grabbed back the initiative, it was again Myler, left out of the final two years ago, who was again at the heart of it, running at the defence and releasing Trent Waterhouse.
When Lee Briers was penalised for tackling Ryan Hall in the air, Sinfield opted to kick another penalty to cut the half-time deficit to two points. The game looked delicately poised, but second-half events meant that the current Cup specialists were destined to triumph with something to spare. Leeds' consolations were all long-term. "Warrington were the better team on the day," McDermott had to admit. "But we had a lot of young fellows Out there who will get valuable experience from that."
The Trouble is that Leeds now have a generation of young players with experience of losing Challenge Cup finals and don't really need any more.
Leeds Hardaker; Jones-Bishop, Watkins, Ablett, Hall; Ward, Sinfield; Leuluai, Burrow, Peacock, Jones-Buchanan, Delaney, Bailey. Subs used Kirke, Griffin, Lunt, Keinhorst.
Warrington Hodgson; J.Monaghan, Ratchford, Atkins, Riley; Briers, Myler; Hill, Higham, Carvell, Waterhouse, Westwood, Harrison. Subs used Morley, M Monaghan, Wood, McCarthy.
Referee R.Silverwood (Mirfield).
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