Castleford Tigers and Leeds Rhinos meet at Wembley Stadium on Saturday to decide who will lift the 2014 Challenge Cup. The final marks one of the biggest days in the sport, and over the years has produced some thrilling, nail-biting and tense games. Here are the 5 closest encounters from over the years…
Bradford 22-20 Leeds (2003)
Bradford and Leeds played out a dramatic all Yorkshire derby in the 2003 final under the roof at the Millenium Stadium. It was a game which swung back and forth but ultimately was decided by a crucial Paul Deacon penalty.
The sides went into half time 14 points apiece, but it was the Bulls who started the second half the strongest. Jamie Peacock, then of Bradford, extended the Bulls’ lead and then Paul Deacon sailed over a penalty to give Bradford an 8 point advantage.
Leeds reduced the deficit to just 2 points with a try from Dave Furner and with 5 minutes left on the clock were awarded a penalty with the opportunity to kick for goal and level the match. They declined and couldn’t manage to get past a stubborn Bradford defence as the Bulls held on for victory.
Sheffield 17-8 Wigan (1998)
A day that Sheffield Eagles fans will never forget as John Kear’s team sprung the biggest upset in the final’s history to defeat Wigan at Wembley. Wigan had lost just 2 matches all season, whereas the Eagles were struggling in mid table.
However, tries from Nick Pickney and Matt Crowther save Sheffield a surprise 11-2 lead at half time. They then extended their lead to 17-2 on 52 minutes as Darren Turner went over for their 3rd try.
Everyone was expecting a comeback from Wigan, but it never came. The day belonged to the 33/1 outsiders as Wigan lost their first final in their previous 10 visits to Wembley.
St. Helens 40-32 Bradford (1996)
The first Challenge Cup final of the Super League era saw the two of the biggest sides in the league break records galore as they played out an exciting game of rugby league.
With just over 20 minutes to go Bradford were leading 26-12 in a game in which Robbie Paul had run the show. The 14 point difference that St. Helens went on to diminish is the biggest comeback in the final’s history as Kieron Cunningham, Simon Booth and Ian Pickavance turned the game around for Saints. Heading in to the final 10 minutes, the momentum was with St. Helens who went on to secure a 40-32 win.
The 72 points scored means the match goes down in history as the highest scoring final, with Bradford’s 32 points being the biggest score from a losing team. It was a great game to signal the start of the modern era.
Wigan 28-24 Hull FC (1984/85)
In one of the most memorable finals to be played at the old Wembley Stadium, Wigan held off a late comeback from Hull to win the cup.
Hull opened the scoring on 11 minutes but Wigan hit back with John Ferguson going over in the corner. Two more tries from Brett Kenny and Henderson Gill extended Wigan’s lead to 16-8 at half time.
3 minutes in to the second half, Shaun Edwards’ try put Wigan 22-8 up and it looked like the cherry and whites would go on to run away with it. Hull responded 2 minutes later with Steve Evans but any hopes the black and whites had faded on 51 minutes after a second try from Ferguson gave Wigan a 28-12 lead.
Hull did not give up though. 3 tries were needed in the final 15 minutes and remarkably they got them. However, none were converted meaning the fairytale comeback just wasn’t meant to be.
Hull FC 25-24 Leeds (2005)
It would be another 20 years before Hull got the chance to get their hands on the cup but they managed to put together a dramatic win against Leeds in the 2005 final in what is often considered the greatest final of all time.
With 20 minutes to go, Hull led 19-12 and it looked like the underdogs may cause an upset. Leeds had other ideas though, and tries from Mark Calderwood and Marcus Bai turned the game in their favour as the Rhinos led 24-19 going in to the final 10 minutes.
Hull’s chance appeared to have slipped away, but in the final few minutes Paul Cooke shrugged off the Leeds defence to go over under the sticks. In the dying few seconds Richard Swain charged down a Kevin Sinfield drop goal attempt ensuring the black and whites held on for a historic win.