Road to Wembley - Quarter Finals
After an age of waiting for it to return the Challenge Cup came upon us after a five week hiatus. It was back to Yorkshire for me and the same venue where Leeds Rhinos comfortably overcame the last League 1 side in the competition, Barrow Raiders.
The draw had been especially kind to the Rhinos this year as they were drawn against the lowest ranked side in the competition yet again, this time the opponents were Featherstone Rovers of the Championship.
This would be my first Friday night game of the season so it meant leaving for Leeds straight after finishing work in Bolton. I’d pre-bought and printed my snazzy online ticket a day or two before and was so determined not to leave it at home that Friday morning that I became a bit possessive of it and always kept it in sight of me or locked in my car. As I was driving to Leeds I came to the realisation that if I had misplaced it I could simply just print another, so all would not have been lost!
I was travelling on my lonesome to the game so was pretty eager to make sure I set off right on 5pm in order to get through any busy traffic across the Pennines. It turned out that the traffic was pretty light so I enjoyed a nice drive across the M62 without suffering any dramas in just over an hour.
I took advantage of the £5 parking in Car Park F at Headingley and was early enough to chill out in my car, eat my butties that I’d made for my tea (ham, tomato and cucumber with mayonnaise if you’re wondering) before heading into the ground about 7:15.
As I walked towards the entrance to the South Stand I passed an old gentleman selling programmes as well as other Leeds Rhinos-based merchandise. He was sat behind a small table which also had quite a few copies of Rugby League World, which I also purchased, and the odd hard-backed book. There was even a book on Kevin Sinfield, I think some sort of autobiography, which was on sale for a staggeringly low £2.50! Then again, it did look second hand. Probably his own and selling it on.
I paid for my programme and magazine and I was given my change with a hearty “There you go John”, to which I chuckled to myself as I’d not given him my name ... and my name isn’t John! He realised what he’d done, apologised, I gave him my real name and we had a laugh about it.
Not really knowing where to go once I’d got into the stand I found the nearest bar, approximately ten steps away, and bought myself a pint. Most fans were buying those big two-pinters which some grounds offer but I thought I’d be sensible and just leave it at one.
Trying to juggle two magazines and my pint whilst trying to put my phone in my pocket I precariously made my way up the top of the South Stand and found a handy spot to lean against a bar and flick through the programme. As I was flicking I noticed Brian McDermott’s column which said he was happy to have drawn Featherstone in this round and didn’t feel they have had an easy time of it so far as his side seemed to have always drawn Super League opposition in the Challenge Cup in the time he’s been in charge. I still think they’ve had it easy!
As I was sat there two blokes carrying a trumpet and trombone between them came marching up the steps towards me. Surprise, surprise, I’d picked the exact spot right in front of where they’d normally stand so I quickly supped up, went to the loo and came back to find a less intimidating spot where I wouldn’t be surrounded by hard-core Leeds fans.
There were plenty of Rovers supporters in attendance as well but they had nothing to shout about early on as Leeds showed total dominance from kick off. It took just 15 minutes for the score to reach 18-0 and from then on you just knew it would be damage limitations for Featherstone.
Featherstone pulled it together after that and enjoyed a decent defensive spell which meant Rhinos’ next try didn’t come until just before the break. Before that Danny McGuire had a try disallowed for a double movement but Leeds were in complete control at the break with a 22-0 score line.
Rovers had the worst possible start to the second half when they had a man sent to the bin within three minutes and Leeds took full advantage with three more converted tries to soon bring the score to 40-0.
There was never any way back for the visiting side so their supporters decided to enjoy the atmosphere and have their own West Stand party. All this while Leeds continued to assert their dominance on a game where Featherstone rarely got a sniff of the Rhino’s try line.
Three further tries made the final score 58-0 to the Super League side but the game was to end in controversy. The West Stand threatened to boil over when the video referee went against the on-field referee and disallow Josh Hardcastle’s try an alleged knock on. It looked harsh to me and most of the Leeds fans around me and when the decision showed up on the big screen it looked like a gallon of beer was thrown into the air in anger and with that they became surrounded by stewards.
Soon after that the game was over. Leeds had managed to keep their line intact and it was time for me to head home. As it was on the way there the traffic was light and I made it home and into bed in no time at all.
So, after easily overcoming Doncaster, Barrow then Featherstone, the Rhinos will finally have much tougher opposition in the Semi Finals where they meet the holders Hull FC.
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