Rugby League: Racing: A nerve-racking 1999 - the year the action went down to the wire: Retchless' spring-heeled dash

Challenge Cup semi-final in Headingley London Broncos v Castleford Tigers
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The Independent Online
AS LAST-MINUTE defeats go, there are not many crueller than a late exit from a Challenge Cup semi-final. For all the new emphasis on Super League, it is getting to Wembley that still defines a player's career - especially those who have never reached a final.

With rugby league heading for a three-year exile during Wembley's transformation, this year's semis were a last chance for more players than usual.

Castleford, last there in 1992, started as the favourites against the London Broncos at Headingley in the first semi-final. However, they were 21-20 down going into the last ten minutes, but then Michael Eagar scored a try from an instinctive, blind pass from Adrian Vowles.

Peter Gill's try and Brett Warton's conversion from the touchline gave London the lead once more, but Danny Orr's drop goal promised to send the drama into extra-time. Then Steele Retchless, already one of the Broncos heroes on the day, alongside the Wembley specialist Shaun Edwards, who played on influentially despite breaking his thumb, took a pass from Robbie Beazley. Somehow, after his phenomenal physical efforts, Retchless found the acceleration to slide through a mere suggestion of a gap and plant the ball over the line. It was a moment of sheer bliss for one of the hardest workers in the game and that 33-27 victory, in one of the most memorable semi-finals of all time, suddenly seemed to open up so many doors for London.

After almost 20 years plugging away in the capital, unsuccessfully struggling to capture their fair share of its attention, this would surely do the trick. Their small but vocal band of supporters celebrated as though all their breakthroughs had come at once in that surge for the try-line. The Broncos were hammered at Wembley by Leeds and their gates went down rather than up, but neither did anything to dull the drama of the day London got to Wembley.

DAVE HADFIELD

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