Rugby League: Capital team's rough justice

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE WAY Leeds cast off their label as the great under-achievers was spectacular in the end but London Broncos certainly didn't deserve to be at the raw end of Wembley's biggest ever winning total. Rugby league experts I spoke to before the game were fearing it was going to be a big mismatch but thanks to the Broncos it turned out to be a great occasion to mark the end of Challenge Cup finals at the old stadium.

After an hour, the Londoners were still in it, but I fear the damage had been done at the end of the first half. Broncos were within a minute of going in with a four-point lead and, with possession, should have had the sense to kill the ball but they sloppily allowed Leeds to mount a last attack and Brad Godden scored under the posts to give them a two- point lead.

It was a major psychological blow and even though Broncos scored first after the interval I think the advantage had switched to Leeds. In a way, that was the story of game - bad mistakes leading to thrilling tries. It made for plenty of excitment but the purists would have done a lot of wincing.

I didn't think much of Leeds in the first half. They lacked organisation and didn't look at all convincing. The point was made after the game, by Iestyn Harris among others, that at least they completed their sets of six and made Broncos do a lot of tackling that eventually wore them out. They might have completed their sets but they didn't complete them well. They didn't kick to good effect and weren't clinical enough on the last tackle. Lethargy in defence allowed Broncos stay alive for much longer than they should have been dangerous.

In the end the forward power told and Leeds got tremendous help from their bench. London came into the game sorely missing the two props they'd lost earlier. It gave extra superiority to Leeds in the strength department. Bringing on Lee Jackson brought them a massive boost as did the the arrival of Hay and Marcus St Hilaire.

Fleming's try five minutes into the second half gave Broncos an encouraging 16-12 lead but they could find no more and when Barrie McDermott crashed through for a try you could sense their defence creaking. Ryan Sheridan then split them open with a 50-yard run that led to Leroy Rivett's second try and the balance was well and truly tilted Leeds' way.

You couldn't argue with Rivett receiving the Lance Todd Trophy after becoming the first player ever to score four tries in a final but I would have been tempted to give it to Karle Hammond for his all-round performance. In a game where mistakes were plentiful, Hammond stood out as a player always seeking to probe and bring a new idea into the play. He kicked superbly and looked every inch the talented player he is.

But you can't dispute the final score and Leeds eventually opened the floodgates to create a marvellous climax. Rugby league needed a showpiece and it certainly provided one. And I hope it will convince Londoners that they have a team worth supporting. Shaun Edwards' bravery in playing with a broken right thumb was typical of him and the only time you were aware of his injury was when he led his team up for their losers medals - and shook hands with his left.

It is a unique occasion and now that they've broken the spell of the last 21 years, I am certain that Leeds will grow in stature and make the rest of the season very interesting. And I hope that the Challenge Cup will continue to entertain us wherever it is played. It is a great event and always seems to attract the sunshine it deserves.

Comments