Rugby League: Hunger drives Widnes

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The Independent Online
Leeds. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .4

Widnes. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .39

BOTH feet racked by cramps and his right hand hanging bruised by his side, Kurt Sorensen accepted congratulations with his left, unaccountably still in working order. 'They wanted to win; we had to win,' he said. 'We were bound to be hungrier than them and it showed.'

At 36 and in the last month of his playing career, Sorensen will finally play in a Challenge Cup final at Wembley on 1 May. He and his team-mates had every reason to crave the result. As one club member put it: 'If we don't go to Wembley this year, we won't go for a long time and half these players won't be here next season.'

That sense of urgency was central to Saturday's overwhelming victory. Sorensen was not alone in his heroics in a dominant pack and he and others could feel from an early stage that the Leeds forwards were going to weaken as the game went on.

Behind the pack, Bobby Goulding and Jonathan Davies have forged a half-back partnership with a splendid internal balance. Although his coach, Phil Larder, took some persuading that stand-off was Davies's best position, Widnes have not lost in the 10 games since they teamed up.

'We're a good blend,' Davies said. 'Bobby puts all the aggression in and I just flit in and out of the game.' That underestimates Davies's contribution on Saturday, but the basic principle is sound.

'When Jiffy wants the ball, I give it to him,' is Goulding's explanation. 'When he doesn't, I give it to the forwards.'

Barring injury, there seems little need to tamper with the backs before Wembley. Selecting the best pack will be more of a problem when Esene Faimalo and Paul Moriarty are fit, but these are the right sort of problems to face in the run-up to a final.

Leeds' coach, Doug Laughton, and their fans were let down by their most experienced and capable players. Alan Tait made crucial mistakes at full-back. Garry Schofield and Andy Gregory did not run with the ball and were both exposed defensively. Ellery Hanley dropped more ball than in any game in living memory. International forwards like Steve Molloy, Paul Dixon and Gary Mercer were largely invisible.

Leeds held Widnes out until after half-time. However, Laughton knew the game was up when Tait spilled Goulding's bomb and John Devereux scored in the corner. In their coach's own phrase, that reduced Leeds to 'bitching at each other behind the sticks.'

It is harmony and a willingness to push yourself beyond the limits in a common cause that wins semi- finals. Sorensen was a monument, albeit a slightly crumpled one, to that truth.

Leeds: Penalties Irving 2. Widnes: Tries Myers 2, Davies 2, Devereux, Currier, Spruce; Goals: Davies 5.

Leeds: Tait; Fallon, Irving, Innes, Fawcett; Schofield (Holroyd, 76), Gregory; Molloy, Lowes, O'Neill (Anderson, 27), Dixon, Mercer, Hanley.

Widnes: Spruce; Devereux, Currier, Wright, Myers; Davies, Goulding; Sorensen (Holliday, 64), Hulme, Howard (Koloto, 75), Eyres, Koloto (Currie, 34), Hulme.

Referee: I Ollerton (Wigan).