Rugby League / Challenge Cup: Leeds find the right balance

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Leeds. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .38

Warrington. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .4

THIS IS becoming the year of the unexpectedly sublime performance. Castleford achieved it against Wigan in the Regal Trophy final at Headingley three weeks ago. Leeds, an even more inconsistent and unreliable proposition for as long as anyone can remember, produced a display just as good in the game's other more sought after knock-out competition - the Silk Cut Cup - on the same ground on Saturday, writes Dave Hadfield.

The Leeds coach, Doug Laughton, has been telling anyone who will listen for weeks that his side were on the point of clicking and giving someone a real hiding.

That the recipients should be the league leaders underlined the quality of this showing by a team that has invariably flattered to deceive since their last productive era in the 1970s.

There were unmistakable signs that Laughton has finally got his blend right. Leeds played some gloriously expansive rugby, giving Kevin Iro, Craig Innes and Jim Fallon a wealth of running chances. But they also have, in hard nuts like Harvey Howard and Gary Mercer, players who can mix it in the middle of the park.

The balance between the immense experience of veterans like Ellery Hanley and the youthful verve of Graham Holroyd and Francis Cummins is right, too.

Even the questionable ploy of fielding Garry Schofield at scrum- half in his first full game for six weeks worked to perfection.

Leeds constantly looked for ways to keep the ball alive and made those tactics pay off by hardly making a handling error.

Once Fallon had crossed for their first try after three minutes, capitalising on Alan Tait's run, they never looked likely to lose their momentum and they will go into the quarter-finals with their confidence at its highest point for years.

There needs to be just one word of warning. Despite Warrington's position on top of the First Division, Leeds will encounter far sterner opposition than this in the remaining two rounds of the competition before Wembley.

Warrington showed an excessive reliance on Jonathan Davies to get them out of trouble and when he could not, began to look suspiciously like their old, honest but limited selves.

Leeds: Tait; Fallon, Iro, Innes, Cummins; Holroyd, Schofield; Harmon (Rose, 69), Lowes, Howard (Harmon, 78), Mercer, Eyres, Hanley.

Warrington: Penny; Forster, Bateman, Davies, Myler; Ellis (Gregory, 67), Mackey; Teitzel (Hilton, 34), Thursfield, Jackson (Teitzel, 67), Darbyshire, Gregory (Elliott, 34), Shelford.

Referee: S Cummings (Widnes).