Leeds Rhinos 50
Tries: Briscoe 5, Delaney, McGuire, Singleton, Burrow
Goals: Sinfield 7/9
Hull KR 0
On a day when a statue of Martin Offiah was revealed outside Wembley stadium, it was only fitting that another wing wizard stole the show in Leeds Rhinos’ record Challenge Cup final victory over Hull KR.
Tom Briscoe, so often the scourge of Rovers in a Hull FC shirt, dismantled his old foes with a stunning five-try haul, beating the record ex-Leeds speedster Leroy Rivett set with four tries in 1999, as the Rhinos ruthlessly retained the famous cup.
In truth, it was a final which would have failed to excite the neutrals as a competitive spectacle, but having lost six finals in 13 years before last season’s nervy triumph over Castleford Tigers, Leeds can be excused for refusing to give the underdogs a sniff of victory.
The most touching moment of the day came before a whistle had been blown, as Lizzie Jones, widow of Danny Jones, who tragically died while playing for Keighley Cougars three months ago, sang an emotional rendition of the traditional hymn Abide With Me.
Hull KR coach Chris Chester gambled with the selection of Australian half-back Albert Kelly, who had not played since the semi-final victory over Warrington Wolves, while Kieran Dixon was given the nod at full-back over the more experienced Ben Cockayne.
Kelly proved his class with a clutch 40/20, and was Rovers’ brightest spark throughout, but had little support, meaning David failed to consistently land any telling blows which would have worried Goliath.
Despite some exciting moments in attack, Dixon showed why his selection was under pressure with a dire second half, during which nearly every touch seemed to result in an error.
In Brian McDermott’s only contentious call, the Leeds coach opted for Mitch Achurch on the bench, with Jimmy Keinhorst dropping out of the squad.
It would take McDermott’s side only seven minutes to assert their authority, Brett Delaney somewhat fortuitously touching down after Jamie Peacock had the ball stripped while muscling his way over the try line himself.
There was nothing lucky about what was to follow, as Joel Moon switched flanks to ghost through the defence off a slick Peacock inside ball and feed Danny McGuire, who marked his 400th career appearance with a Wembley try.
Minutes later Ryan Hall claimed Josh Mantellato’s towering kick off to break away, and in the following play the Rhinos landed their own haymaker by moving the ball wide for Briscoe to step off his wing and power his way through some soft tackles to open his account for the afternoon.
The final 20 minutes of the first half passed with Leeds stuttering to move up a gear, but Rovers were unable to take advantage with their own sloppy attack.
Dixon started the second half with the first two errors of his 40-minute horror show, which mercifully went unpunished, but just as Hull KR threatened to grab a foothold in the game, the 23-year-old failed to contest Briscoe in claiming a kick to the corner, and the Featherstone-born flyer raced 90 metres to score in the corner.
From that point on the Rhinos could smell blood, and Rob Burrow’s no-look pass allowed fellow substitute Brad Singleton to crash over, before battering-ram Peacock again showed his subtler side by creating the space for Kallum Watkins to send Briscoe over for his hat-trick, and the guarantee of the Lance Todd Trophy.
Watkins then produced his destructive best to power through and offload to the supporting Burrow, who dotted down underneath the posts.
Typically Briscoe was to have the last word, once more owing his centre partner Watkins, who yet again made the initial break and final pass, to allow the winger to touch down in the corner and match Rivett’s 16-year record.
Of course he was to go one better, pouncing on another Dixon drop to slalom his way into the history books as the only man to score five tries in a Challenge Cup final.
In fairness, while Briscoe grabs the headlines, no Leeds player stood head and shoulders above the rest. Instead it was a controlled, composed team performance, which ensured an upset was never on the cards.
After all the pain captain Kevin Sinfield has suffered in this competition, it will have been beyond his wildest dreams to be ending his career in the blue and amber having led the side to back-to-back triumphs, while Peacock and fellow warhorse Kylie Leuluai were also given fitting send-offs.
Whereas Hull KR now have a benchmark to work towards for next season, Leeds now turn their attentions towards completing a historic treble.