Rugby League Cup Final: Fifteen seconds of fame: Richard Williams sees a Leeds youngster add a footnote to his own day in history

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The Independent Online
WHILE most eyes were on the big names, the likes of Offiah and Tuigamala and Hanley, a 17-year-old YTS boy on pounds 35 a week ran into history yesterday. With two minutes left on the clock, Francis Cummins covered 80 yards to make himself not only the youngest player ever to appear in the Challenge Cup final but also the youngest man to score points in rugby league's annual showpiece. Cummins is in his first season with Leeds, his home-town club, and he went back to Yorkshire last night packing the proud memory of a warm handshake from Va'aiga Tuigamala, his opposite number, alongside his loser's medal.

By the time he scored, Leeds were reduced to heroic gestures. The match had really left them after 12 minutes and 37 seconds of the first half, when Martin Offiah noticed that there hadn't been much happening on the Wigan right wing, where Tuigamala, the former All Black, was playing only the ninth rugby league game of his life. Clearly minded to liven things up, Offiah accepted Frano Botica's pass just inside the Wigan 10-metres line, in the shadow of his own posts, and switched on the talent that made him the game's costliest player when he moved from Widnes for pounds 440,000 in 1992.

With five strides he spurted through the first layer of cover. By the halfway line he had burned off the second posse of pursuers. Now he faced only Alan Tait, the Leeds full-back, who was back-pedalling, trying to lure Offiah into a mistake. But the Wigan winger outfoxed him with practised disdain, drifting inside before turning right and accelerating for the corner, pumping the long legs that destroyed Castleford's hopes in his first Challenge Cup final two years ago.

By the time he sank to his knees to milk the crowd's worship, the clock said 12 minutes and 52 seconds. In those 15 seconds Offiah had given a clear indication that Ellery Hanley, four times a winner with Wigan, was enjoying the last day on which he would be able to boast of never having been on the losing side in a Wembley final.

Hanley had slipped away from the game with 18 minutes to go, able to add nothing to his imperishable legend beyond the tackle that freed the ball to set up Garry Schofield's try when Leeds were making their great effort to get back on terms early in the second half.

But just as three turnovers had handed the momentum to Wigan at vital moments in the first period, so Hanley's loss of the ball to a wall of red-and- white defenders in the 64th minute created the platform for the try with which Offiah took Wigan over the horizon, leaving only young Cummins to have his own 15 seconds of glory, and the last word on behalf of the next generation.