Rugby League: London's little men earn a place in the big time

Castleford Tigers 27 London Broncos 33
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SHAUN EDWARDS, looking forward to his 11th Challenge Cup final, summed it up. "When we get there, they'll think we're the curtain-raiser," he said. "That's how small we are."

Edwards and his London Broncos had just belied their lack of physical presence by winning one of the most emotionally draining matches of even his long career.

Leading virtually throughout, they faced heart-breaking defeat in Leeds on Saturday, only to triumph through the efforts of one of the men playing well beyond his bulk. Steele Retchless, an emergency prop forward whose name weighs more than he does, had been voted man-of-the-match even before his decisive contribution in injury time, when he took a pass from Robbie Beazley, hinted at a pass to the wing, but straightened up to crash over.

It was a fitting conclusion to an unforgettable match. Twice the Broncos had grafted their way into a winning position; twice Castleford - powered forward by fiercely committed performances from the likes of Dean Sampson - had clawed their way back into contention. There was spectacular attack, controversial refereeing, heroic defence - everything you could ask for.

And then, just as Cas seemed to have survived, up popped Retchless with the winner. It just showed that, as London's coach, Dan Stains, put it: "It's not big, tough people who win you football matches. It's good, tough people."

It is also good, experienced people. Alongside Edwards, his former Wigan team-mate, Martin Offiah, also played an important role, scoring a try to compensate for a bizarre blunder that gave Castleford two points to fuel their first revival.

"It doesn't feel real at all," said Offiah, a Londoner now going to Wembley with his home-town club. "It was incredible, but we just kept plugging away."

He agreed with Edwards, also a try-scorer and vastly influential as the game wore on, that the thrill was, if anything, greater than that of reaching the final with Wigan. "It feels better," he said, his joy only tempered by fears that he might have broken his thumb. "As you get older you appreciate things more. And, at Wigan, you were expected to win."

The benefits for the game in London could be incalculable. "London is a place of trends," Edwards said, "This can make watching the London Broncos trendy."

"It was about little blokes with big tickers," said Stains, and now the club and the game must match them by capitalising - just about literally - on their success.

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

Castleford Tigers: Flowers; Gay, Eagar, Maloney, Rogers; Orr, Davis; Sykes, Raper, Sampson, Tonks, Fritz, Vowles. Substitutes used: Pickering, Lynch, Tallec.

Referee: S Cummings (Widnes).