Thursday, 21 August 2014

2014 Challenge Cup Final Preview

A trip to Wembley  during the August bank holiday weekend is the dream of every rugby league fan but this year, there will be more than just dreams fulfilled at the hallowed home of English football as the 2014 Rugby League Challenge Cup final at Wembley on Saturday features a Yorkshire derby.

Rugby league is famous for derbies with all but two Super League teams taking part in the adrenaline filled meetings on a regular basis but when it comes to the Challenge Cup final, a derby meeting is rare with the last derby back in 2005 when Hull defeated Leeds 25-24 at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.  
This weekend’s face-off between Castleford and Leeds will be the first Wembley derby since 1991 when Wigan and St Helens met but the wait for an all-Yorkshire meeting at the national stadium dates back to 1986 ironically the year of Castleford’s last success in the competition when the triumphed 15-14 over Hull Kingston Rovers.

1986 is a year that many Tigers fans have had at the forefront of their thoughts during this season’s run in the competition as a good omen with the triumph over Wigan on the path their last cup win being replicated in this season’s last eight which saw another omen drift in as when the Warriors and Tigers have met in the competition, the victor has gone on to lift the trophy.  After leaving the DW with a 16-4 win back in June, fans of both sides instantly said it would be ‘The year of the Tiger’ and Castleford are just 80 minutes away from fulfilling such a premonition. 

Aside from the quarter-final win at Wigan, Castleford have had a fairly easy run to the final which started right back in early April with a trip to Championship side Batley Bulldogs and saw the Tigers roar to a 48-10 win which they followed up in round 5 with a stunning 60-16 victory at home to Championship side Sheffield Eagles. The aforementioned quarter-final over Wigan proved to be their toughest test as they triumphed 16-4 at rain-soaked DW Stadium in early June. 

The semi-final draw was kind to the Tigers who avoided the big two of Leeds and Warrington as they took on fellow Super League side Widnes Vikings at Leigh Sports Village and secured their first Wembley appearance in 22 years with a comfortable 28-6 victory. Saturday’s showpiece meeting is a fairy-tale for Castleford but for Leeds it could be the extension of a nightmare run in the final as the Rhinos make the trip to Wembley on the back of six consecutive defeats.

It is hard to believe that with visits to Murrayfield, Wembley and the Millennium Stadium in the last 15 years that Leeds have only come away with the trophy just once as they triumphed 52-16 over London Broncos back in 1999. The Rhinos looked on course to retain the trophy in 2000 at Murrayfield before suffering 24-18 defeat to neighbours Bradford in the first of two losses to the Bulls with the second just three years later at the Millennium Stadium in a 22-20 loss. 

The Rhinos followed that up with another defeat to a fellow Yorkshire side when as mentioned earlier they lost out to Hull in 2005 which saw a break of five years before they reached the final again but the sadly their bad run continued as in three consecutive trips to Wembley from 2010-2012 they left as the losing side with a 28-18 defeat to Wigan sandwiched by heavy defeats to Warrington losing 30-6 and 35-18 respectively.

The omens of meeting a fellow Yorkshire side sadly do not bode well for the Rhinos given that of their six losses since 1999; three have been against fellow Yorkshire sides but having not met Castleford before in the final there is the chance to start a new piece of history in a positive manner.

Aside from the weight of their poor form on their shoulders, this season’s run to the final for Leeds has been far from an easy one having met fellow Super League sides in three of their four games. Their debut in this season’s competition began back in early April with a trip to fellow Super league side Wakefield which resulted in a 60-6 demolition of the Wildcats which they followed up in round 5 with a fierce tie against St Helens at Headingley which saw them eventually triumph 32-12. 

The quarter final draw looked to have been kind to the Rhinos as they were drawn at home to Championship leaders Leigh Centurions but in what will go down as one of the ties of the season, they were made to work very hard for a win in a game that saw Leigh not only open the scoring but lead 12-6 before going on to lose 25-16 in a battling night at Headingley. 

The semi-final draw could not have been worse for the Rhinos as they were drawn to face the foes of their last Wembley defeat in the shape of Warrington at Langtree Park. A stunning game saw the Rhinos come out on top in a 24-16 win and in dispatching the upsets of 2010 and 2012; confidence for Saturday is high as they take on a common enemy in Castleford.

As a neutral for only the second time in four years, it is kind of nice to be able to preview a final that will hold no nerves on a personal level but as a Warrior, I graced the quarter final between Wigan and Castleford and though I left the DW Stadium upset at Wigan’s exit, I was in awe of Castleford both on and off the pitch. 
Departing the stadium, I walked past a group of joyous Tigers fans and even said “I think this maybe your year you know” but little did I know that they would end up just 80 minutes away from fulfilling that prediction so I suppose in that term I am edged more towards Castleford than Leeds which is also proven in the prediction of 24-20 to Castleford.

This preview was written after a suggestion from @seriousaboutrl and can be found on their website at Serious About Rugby League.