Warrington are a club in the process of rewriting their history. From not having won the Challenge Cup since 1974, they have now won it twice in two years and, given their ability and ambition, there is no reason they should not continue to carry off trophies.
It was Warrington's fault that this was not the classic Wembley many of us predicted. They were just too good on the day. All the trappings of a classic were in place. Players from the unforgettable 1985 final between Wigan and Hull were paraded before the game. Leeds were led out by their 90-year-old president, Harry Jepson, who was at Wembley when these two clubs last met in a Cup final in 1936. Also, instead of being presented to some dignitary who neither knows nor cares about rugby league, the two sides hugged – no place for formal handshakes, this – Steve Prescott, the ex-player who has been such a tireless fund-raiser since being diagnosed with cancer. It was a heart-warming sight to see the game embrace its own.
With all tickets sold and even the "Ring of Indifference" that is Club Wembley tolerably full and looking less like a tidemark around a bath-tub than usual, there was never going to be any lack of atmosphere. It was just a shame that Leeds failed to come to the party, but that was because they had the invitation snatched away by the Wolves whenever they got near the doorstep.
If the game as a contest failed to live up to its promise and its setting, it was their doing. Warrington were just too efficient to let that happen. Mind you, it helps when, even when you could have got it wrong, you get it right.
The Wolves coach, Tony Smith, made a huge call by leaving out his regular scrum-half, Richie Myler, amid unconfirmed rumours of a major argument between the two. Heartbroken in the build-up, Myler said and did all the right things on the day, while Smith was disinclined to claim too much credit for selectorial genius. As he will know, the Wolves were so superior on the day that they would have won with the septuagenarian Frank Myler at half-back, let alone the pacy Richard.
Those who might have missed out had he played, Jon Clarke and Micky Higham, did not have the most eye-catching of games and nor did last year's man of the match, Michael Monaghan, but between them they undeniably got the job done.
Leeds' Brian McClennan also made a big decision, leaving Ali Lauitiiti out for what he expected to be a defensive slog in the sun. As it was, the Rhinos were soon behind and in need of a spark of creativity, which Lauitiiti might just have provided from the bench.
The Rhinos could have had the early lead they needed, however, if Ryan Bailey had not tried to go through Richie Mathers rather than past him. Helped by Louis Anderson, the full-back – effectively shown the door at Warrington by the signing for next season of Brett Hodgson – managed to prevent the ball being grounded. It was one of at least three try-saving tackles in a performance that raised the question of why it is necessary to replace him with a veteran Australian. "I thought he was fantastic," said Smith. "It was the best game I've seen from him in a Warrington shirt."
If it was Mathers who took the lead role in preventing tries, it was Lee Briers who showed how to create them. In effect, he won the game in three minutes of the first half, setting up two tries and putting Leeds in a position from which they were never to recover.
One of the maverick figures of the game a couple of years ago, Briers is now a mature and responsible team man, without sacrificing his flair and instinct. He was a worthy winner of the Lance Todd Trophy for man of the match, but of equal significance was the gesture he made to the skies when the game was won, in memory of his late elder brother.
Briers is an emotional player and his coach was angry that he was denied another moment that would have meant much to him. Smith believes that those quiet few seconds back in the changing rooms, when you look into each other's eyes and reflect on what you have achieved, are the most important. "It was all wrong that Lee should be robbed of that moment by being dragged off for a drugs test," he said "The drug-testing system isn't working."
Others who had particular reason to relish the aftermath of a memorable victory were Chris Hicks and Ryan Atkins, the scorers of five tries between them. Hicks' hat-trick – a real Wembley rarity – was the result of some truly exceptional finishing. The way he managed to catch and touch down Briers' kick for his second was especially accomplished. Atkins is one of the players Warrington have added since last year's victory over Huddersfield and he has grown in stature throughout the season. On this sort of form, it will be hard to leave him out of England's plans for the Four Nations.
No reputations were enhanced on the Leeds side, except possibly the absent Jamie Peacock. They now face the challenge of regrouping to defend their Super League title. The bad news for them and the rest is that, unlike last year when winning the Challenge Cup was enough for Warrington, now it merely seems like the start.
Warrington Mathers: Hicks, King, Atkins, Riley; Briers, Monaghan; Morley, Clarke, Carvell, L Anderson, Westwood, Harrison. Substitutes used Higham, Solomona, Wood, V Anderson.
Leeds: Webb: Smith, Delaney, Senior, Hall; McGuire, Burrow; Leuluai, Buderus, Bailey, Jones-Buchanan, Clarkson, Sinfield. Substitutes used Diskin, Ablett, Eastwood, Kir.
Referee R Silverwood (Mirfield).Reuse content