Road to Wembley - Round Six
It was time for my latest journey in the Challenge Cup at the weekend as Round 6 had arrived, and with it another trip over to Yorkshire – my fourth in a row this term.
I was particularly looking forward to this trip as it would be my first ever venture to Leeds’ Headingley Carnegie stadium and my first look at the 2015 trebble winners. Obviously, a lot has changed at the Rhinos in the 18 months or so since that 2015 Grand Final but I was still excited to see what would be a strong side against my home-town team.
Leeds’ brief journey saw them start their Challenge Cup campaign in Round 5 after a poor season saw them as one of the four lowest placed Super Leage sides from last year, and it was a relatively comfortable home win over Doncaster 64-28. This time they wouldn’t want to take any chances against a Barrow side who were unbeaten in all competitions totalling 13 matches and happened to name a very strong squad.
The Raiders’ slightly lengthier run to this stage began way back in Round 3 with victory over Rochdale Mayfield. Another home win over Keighley Cougars in Round 4 gave them a chance to take on York City Knights in Round 5 and eventually won a tense game 50-28.
The draw was probably a little unfair on the League 1 side considering the other clubs still left in the draw, as they would have no chance against a top Super League side away from home despite being second in League 1.
But the first challenge of the day was just getting there! I was travelling to the game with my dad again and, luckily, we set off in plenty of time as we were both unaware that the Leeds half marathon was taking place the same day.
Apparently there were over 10 coaches travelling over from South Cumbria and it seems none of them got the memo that there was an organised event taking place in the city centre. Because of this most of the coaches arrived late including the team coach which resulted in kick-off having to be delayed by ten minutes.
Because we were there in good time we were able to have a bite to eat and a drink whilst discussing how likely it was that Barrow would cause an upset. Optimistic as we were the fact the team coach arrived late it meant that the side didn’t have time to come out and soak up the pre-match atmosphere and try and lose any remaining nerves they may have had.
Despite their brilliant start to the season this was a big game for Barrow and a big day for the supporters who had travelled a long way to watch their side take on one of Super League’s giants and over 800 of them took over the uncovered east stand terrace.
Any thoughts of an upset were well and truly quashed inside the first 16 minutes when Leeds were on course to record a huge score, being 22-0 up thanks to four tries and three conversions at that point. It didn’t look good for the Raiders and I looked at my dad saw he was thinking what I was ... How many would they get??
Thankfully for the many travelling fans Barrow began to settle down and soon produced some impressive rugby which resulted in an unconverted try scored in the right corner. Cue wild scenes at the visiting end and a silenced Leeds support around the rest of the ground. It was a nice touch from the home fans to applaud the Barrow side for their efforts after that score and ignited some mild belief into the League 1 side.
Despite a comical moment where the Barrow support was using the beat of Leeds’ drum to drown out the home support with their own chant, unfortunately, that optimism didn’t last! Two more first half tries for the hosts gave them a 32-4 lead at the break and they could claim to have one and a half feet in the next round.
During the break my dad was taking in a bit of celebrity spotting in the ground. He was certain he saw a woman off the TV but didn’t know her name (that narrowed it down a bit!) and saw a Donald Trump lookalike?? I think it was his hair!
The hope was that Leeds would lighten off a bit but they didn’t seem to read that script and were 50 points ahead by the 65th minute. With the score at 54-4 it was time for Barrow to try and leave with double figures of their own and they duly succeeded when another well worked try was scored and converted with just over ten minutes remaining.
That was as good as it got though as Leeds added another three scores to their tally to break the 70 point mark and win the game with a score of 72-10. But the biggest cheer of the half went to an elderly gentleman cleanly catching a penalty kick into the crowd and a Barrow fan who headed a conversion back onto the pitch from behind the sticks.
The Barrow supporters had come a long way and weren’t willing to leave without having some sort of a party and when Leeds had announced their Long Bar was open to all fans after the game, I don’t think they expected as many Cumbrians to take up that offer as actually did. The bar was a sea of blue and yellow shirts – and that wasn’t from Leeds supporters!
I was particularly impressed with the short cut through the stand into the grounds of the Headingly cricket stadium where the bar was situated and spent some time stood there soaking in the sheer size of it. I’ll admit that I’m not a particularly well travelled cricket fan but it was impressive.
So the Challenge Cup journey is over for the last remaining League 1 side and with the Quarter Final draw being made straight after the Sunday afternoon games I found that I will be back in Leeds as they have been drawn at home again ... to Championship side Featherstone.
Something tells me that Yorkshire is the place to be this year!
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