Rugby League: Widnes in business

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Leeds. . . .4

Widnes. . .39

A QUITE magnificent second-half performance by Widnes ensured a return to Wembley for the first time since 1984. The Silk Cut Challenge Cup final on 2 May will mean more to the club than any of their triumphs in the 1970s and 1980s and it was that fierce desire to win a match that could save the club that was too potent a brew for Leeds at Central Park yesterday.

A mere three-point lead after a first half during which they had made all the best chances with the benefit of the wind behind them hardly seemed a secure position for a Widnes side needing the financial transfusion of a visit to Wembley.

In the event, there was nothing to worry about. Aided and abetted by some shoddy defending, with some of Leeds' biggest names particularly blameworthy, they raced away to score six tries and 32 points without reply in a stunningly one- sided second half.

The former Widnes full-back, Alan Tait, had already dropped one high kick soon after the break, only to be saved by an offside decision. There was no reprieve for him the second time, Jonathan Davies scooping the ball up and John Devereux scoring in the corner.

Bobby Goulding, completely outplaying his old mentor, Andy Gregory, at half-back, ran into the heart of the Leeds defence to prepare the way for the next try, but Andy Currier still needed to find a gap between Garry Schofield and Craig Innes that should never have been there to make the line.

It seemed it could hardly get worse for Leeds, but it did. When the unusually error-prone Ellery Hanley dropped a pass for the fourth time in the match, Darren Wright picked up and strode down the wing and Davies was in support to touch down under the sticks.

Currier's pass to Stuart Spruce and Vince Fawcett's botched tackle opened the way for the next stage in the humiliation. The last five minutes saw Goulding and David Hulme combine to give the constantly dangerous Davies a second try to set alongside his five goals and Goulding again made the running for Richie Eyres to find David Myers, who also battled his way over for a second try.

Wherever you looked, Widnes were superior to a quite astonishing degree. In Goulding and Davies, they have stumbled upon a half- back blend to test the very best and the veteran Kurt Sorensen and his partner Harvey Howard dominated exchanges in the forwards.

Sorensen will make his first Wembley appearance at the end of what he has already decided will be his last season. He was as vigorous and venomous as ever yesterday, but, if anything, the tooth-rattling tackles of Howard, originally signed as a winger, did even more damage.

The fierceness of the Widnes tackling had Leeds going backwards from the start and when they took the lead after only six minutes they could have also taken an early stranglehold on the match.

That try was a gem of its type, Goulding hoisting a high, sharply angled kick and Myers stealing into the in-goal area to catch cleanly. Davies converted and he, Devereux and Spruce all went close before Simon Irving got Leeds' first points from a penalty after Howard had obstructed James Lowes.

Goulding popped over a drop goal, but Irving chipped away at the Widnes lead with another kick after Emosi Koloto had held down Hanley. It was a commentary on Leeds' performance, however, that they never looked like scoring a try. When they allowed their defensive commitment to slide, there was only going to be one result and that is that Widnes are back in business, in more ways than one.

Leeds: A Tait; J Fallon, S Irving, C Innes, V Fawcett; G Schofield (G Holroyd, 76 min), A Gregory; S Mulloy, J Lowes, M O'Neill (P Anderson, 27 min), P Dixon, G Mercer, E Hanley (capt). Coach: D Laughton.

Widnes: S Spruce; J Devereux, A Currier, D Wright, D Myers; J Davies, B Goulding; K Sorensen (L Holliday, 64 min), P Hulme (capt), H Howard (Koloto, 75 min), R Eyres, E Koloto (S Currie, 34 min), D Hulme. Coach: P Larder.

Referee: I Ollerton (Wigan).

Scores: Myers/Davies (try/goal, 6 min, 0-6); Irving (pen, 10 min, 2-6); Goulding (drop goal, 13 min, 2- 7); Irving (pen, 26 min, 4-7); Devereux/Davies (try/goal, 46 min, 4-13); Currier (try, 51 min, 4-17); Davies (try/goal, 57 min, 4-23); Spruce/Davies (try/goal, 70 min, 4-29); Davies (try/goal, 75 min, 4-35); Myers (try, 79 min, 4-39).