Five Things: Rampant Rhinos, Brilliant Briscoe and Dixon
1. Rampant Rhinos
Most were tipping Leeds in the Challenge Cup final but few would have predicted such a thrashing that was handed out. 50-0 is an amazing scoreline; a fantastic one for the Rhinos faithful and a very embarrassing one for Hull KR. Often finals are tense and tight affairs, as the weight of pressure and expectation can hold some players back from their best. Teams are wary of making mistakes and can be conservative, even tentative, in their play. But that certainly wasn’t the case for Leeds who were cool, calm and collected. With the monkey off their back after last year’s victory over Cas, it was all plain sailing for them. They knew what to expect and used their experience to good use. They put the Robins to the sword with relative ease and there only looked like one winner from the opening try from Brett Delaney.
It was a fitting end to the careers of Kevin Sinfield, Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai, who have all been great servants at Headingley. It must have been a tad strange for Peacock, who will join the club he just smashed next year in an off-field role. The Cup final was also a warning sign to the rest of the Super League – the Rhinos will take some beating in the next few weeks. On their day, like Saturday, they are brilliant and near impossible to stop. Even without Paul Aiton they have so many stars that can hurt the opposition. Perhaps most impressive is not their attack, which is eye-catching and multi-dimensional, but their defence, which was committed and iron-clad for full 80 minutes. Leeds work hard on their D and take pride in denying the opposition.
2. Dire Dixon
Kieran Dixon must have broken a few mirrors and kicked a few black cats on his way to Wembley. There’s no sugarcoating it – the fullback had a shocker in the final and it could take him a while to recover from it. Dixon is a talented player with pace to burn, someone with an X-Factor. But he just had no luck with the ball in hand and the errors started to rack up. Leeds targeted him, causing him trouble with bombs, and capitalised brutally on every mistake he made.
Dixon will bounce back and hopefully become a better player. He is very young and will learn a lot from the experience. Bad days at the office can happen, and unfortunately his was at Wembley in front of 80,000 people. He declined to talk to the media after the game but many will sympathise with his plight. You could see the former London Bronco was trying his heart out, he was desperate to atone, but perhaps he was trying too hard, which just led to even more mistakes.
Fullback is a tough position, one of the most difficult on the field, and there is no place to hide. Wembley can be a cruel place at times. Hull KR skipper Tyrone McCarthy gave the youngster his support: “I wouldn’t like to play there and anybody who questions him if they put themselves in that position I’m sure they wouldn’t enjoy it too,” he said post-match.
“He’ll be a bit disappointed but he’s a fantastic player and we’re all there to support him and I’m pretty sure he’ll turn it around.”
3. Brilliant Briscoe
While it was nightmare for Dixon, it was like all of Tom Briscoe’s Christmases had come at once. Everything turned to gold for the winger who went home with a record five tries and the Lance Todd trophy. Briscoe had never scored five tries in a game before, even as a kid, and he was rightly overjoyed after full-time. From the 90-metre effort to some crucial short-range finishes, he just couldn’t stopping crossing to score. The ex-Hull FC man has had his fair share of battles with injury in recent times and has also played in two losing Challenge Cup finals. So he know what it’s like to be down, and for the game to give you a kick in the teeth, which is something that made his afternoon all the more sweeter.
Briscoe was almost set to join Cronulla two years ago when he left Hull FC. But he decided to join the Rhinos instead and it’s certainly a decision he hasn’t regretted. So far he’s won two Challenge Cups and he could have more silverware at the end of the year. He’s only 25 and the Featherstone flyer could get better and win a recall to England. Briscoe might have another decade in first-grade ahead of him but days like August 29, 2015, will be pretty hard to top from a personal standpoint.
4. Rusty Rovers
They were the underdogs and surprised virtually everyone by getting to the final. They were expected to be beaten but not to the extent of what happened on the weekend, which was pure annihilation. It was a black day for Hull KR who had waited 29 years to get back to Wembley. To not score a point, as well as to concede 50, is dreadful for a professional team in a major game. The Robins looked overawed and out of their depth, like they had reached their goal by getting that far and they were just happy to be there. That was the wrong mindset when facing a team as dangerous and talented as the Rhinos.
Hull KR lacked a natural scrum-half with Terry Campese out, and Albert Kelly was forced to do the organizing, which is not his natural game as a stand-off. Kelly is at his best when given a freer role where he can support players and chime into the line when he needs to. Maurice Blair is a better suited in the forward pack than in the halves and his partnership with Kelly never got going out of first gear on Saturday. It took an age for the Robins to get their first penalty and luck seemed to be always against them, from Leeds’ opening try when the ball came free from Peacock’s hands, to one of Kelly’s attempted 40-20 kicks which was waved off. The Rhinos gave them nothing and Hull KR couldn’t respond to the wave of momentum crashing against them. It will take some time to get over this demolition but they don’t have long to respond in a positive way and show they are a better side than they displayed at Wembley. Wakefield this weekend should a match worth watching as a chance to atone.
5. Cup analysis
A crowd of just over 80,000 was in London for rugby league’s big day. There was a sea of red and blue shirts, as well as fans from clubs from all over the country. The weather held out, the atmosphere was fantastic and carnival-like, and Lizzie Jones’s song was beautiful and heart-breaking at the same time. There was an unveiling of statues of some of our sport’s greats and all in all it was a great day for the code. But in terms of the on-field action such a one-sided final was a touch predictable and boring as an advertisement, unless you are a Leeds fan of course.
A 50-0 scoreline in a Cup final doesn’t do the game any favours from a promotional point of view, or show that the gap between the top teams and the rest is shortening. It may even be widening. Barring a miracle, the match was pretty much over by half-time and as Hull KR kept dropping the ball the score blew out into something we rarely ever see. On rugby league’s 120th birthday an exciting, see-sawing final, where the lead changed hands and there was drama and intrigue, would have gone down well. But you can’t script games like these and full credit has to go to Leeds who played their part magnificently. They are a special team and did what needed to be done. The 2015 edition of the Challenge Cup has some great twists and turns – Leigh knocking out Wakefield and Salford, Hull KR beating Wigan and Warrington, the Leeds vs St Helens semi-final – as some life to the competition returns. Hopefully next year we see more of the same and without a cricket score being posted in the penultimate game.