Rugby League: A triumph for Leeds' unlikely lads

Challenge Cup final: Rhinos end 21-year wait for a major trophy as forward power overwhelms London Broncos
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Leeds Rhinos 52 London Broncos 16

Tries: Rivett 4, Cummins Try: Offiah, Simpson

Godden, Harris, McDermott Fleming St Hilaire Goals: Smyth 2

Goals: Harris 8

Half-time: 12-10 Attendance: 73,242

LIKE SOME end of sale bargain bin, the last Silk Cut Challenge Cup final at Wembley offered two matches for the price of one.

There was a compelling contest for an hour, albeit one in which London always seemed likely to be eventually out-gunned, and then an exhibition by Leeds in the last 20 minutes.

That the afternoon unfolded in that way was partly due to an unlikely Wembley hero. A year ago Leroy Rivett was on loan to Bramley, Leeds' humble tenants at Headingley, and not the least bit happy about it.

Now he admits that the club knew what it was doing in shipping him down to the the Second Division. He built up some confidence and fitness and the result was there for all to see as he set a record that can never be beaten at the present stadium.

Rivett ran in four tries, one better than Robbie Paul, who was himself the first hat-trick scorer in a Wembley final three years ago.

"It's not just today; he's been playing really well for the last seven or eight games," said his captain, Iestyn Harris, whose own eight goals and 20 points also equalled records. "He's the best winger in the competition at the moment and he deserves a Great Britain spot."

Rivett, who claims never to suffer from nerves and who in any case had a dream on Friday night that he would score a hat-trick and win the Lance Todd Trophy, certainly looked international material in the final, especially when he intercepted from London's best player, Karle Hammond, to go 90 yards for his third try.

But this was also a triumph for the sheer power and strength of Leeds' pack. Adrian Morley and Barrie McDermott both had highly effective games, but the pick of the lot, and the possible Lance Todd winner if Rivett had not gone berserk, was Darren Fleary.

The quiet prop is usually rated for his defensive workload and that was well to the fore in this game, but he also did some skilful things with the ball, notably when he set up the try just before half-time that put his side ahead for the first time. In rugby league at this level, even the one-dimensional players sometimes have hidden depths.

The game was also a demonstration of the coaching expertise of Graham Murray, whose departure at the end of the season to coach North Sydney in his native Australia now looks a more regrettable loss than ever.

Murray has made match- winning players out of previously unregarded ones such as Rivett and Fleary, as well as nurturing the more obvious talents such as Harris.

His ability to change style and tactics in midstream has also been a major factor. "We never have the same game plan from one match to the next," said Harris.

More than that, Murray's changes of tack in the middle of games make Leeds fiendishly difficult to play against. The one that was forced on him at half-time by Daryl Powell's calf injury saw his favourite move, of Harris to stand-off with Marcus St Hiliare coming on at full-back, pay off handsomely.

Leeds' chief executive, Gary Hetherington, said after this first cup victory for 21 years that it was now more important than ever to find the right man to carry on with the job that Murray has begun so impressively. Of the seven potential candidates he spoke to on his recent visit to Australia, the New Zealand coach, Frank Endacott, and Dean Lance, formerly with the Perth Western Reds, are two who seem to have made an impression.

As for London, there is an obvious danger that the trauma of the last 20 minutes will set back their progress in the capital.

They could not be faulted for their effort in the first hour; after that, as they must have privately feared, they simply ran out of fuel, drained by the sheer physical toil of holding bigger, stronger men.

Their coach, Dan Stains, a gracious and philosophical in defeat, drew the obvious lesson - that the Broncos need more of those bigger, stronger players themselves.

With Shaun Edwards, on the receiving end of a hiding at Wembley for a change, hampered by his broken thumb, Hammond's creative efforts for London were admirable, but they could not live with Leeds in the forwards.

"I can promise you that we will be bringing in some big, powerful people", he said. "Nothing great was ever achieved overnight and we still have some work to do."

Leeds Rhinos: Harris; Rivett, Blackmore, Godden, Cummins; Powell, Sheridan; McDermott, Newton, Fleary, Morley, Farrell, Glanville. Substitutes used: St Hilaire, Jackson, Hay, Mathiou.

London Broncos: Tollett; Smyth, Fleming, Timu, Offiah; Hammond, Edwards; Retchless, Beazley, Salter, Millard, Simpson, Gill. Substitutes used: Toshack, Callaway, Ryan, Air.

Referee: R Smith (Castleford).


Leroy Rivett: four tries, beating Robbie Paul's three for Bradford in 1996.

Iestyn Harris: eight goals, equalling Cyril Kellett for Featherstone Rovers in 1973.

Iestyn Harris: 20 points, equalling Neil Fox for Wakefield Trinity in 1960.

Highest score: 52, beating 40 by St Helens in 1996.

Widest winning margin: 36, eclipsing Wakefield Trinity, who beat Hull 38-5 in 1960.