The Challenge Cup final will be an all-Yorkshire affair in 2014, after Leeds Rhinos and Castleford Tigers booked their respective places at London's Wembley Stadium on Saturday and Sunday.
The final will mark Castleford’s first appearance on the biggest rugby league stage of them all since 1992, while Leeds have become runners-up specialists since they last lifted the trophy in 1999.
Here, we take a look at how both sides reached the showpiece event, to be held at Wembley on August 23, with Castleford disposing of Widnes Vikings, and the Rhinos eliminating Warrington Wolves in the semi-finals.
Widnes Vikings 6-28 Castleford Tigers
The Tigers breezed through their semi-final at Leigh Sports Village on Sunday, putting a below-par Widnes side to the sword with a superb performance.
In an electric atmosphere, Castleford sprung out of the traps in fine fashion, needing just four minutes to get a try on the scoreboard.
Though Widnes were the side applying the pressure early on, a superb break from Daryl Clark set Liam Finn away, and the Irishman did the rest—dotting down between the posts, as Castelford’s Twitter feed revealed:
Great team work by the boys, good work from Clark see's Finn run away with it half way down the pitch and finishes right under the sticks.— Castleford Tigers (@CTRLFC) August 10, 2014
Marc Sneyd converted to make it 6-0, but that was just the beginning of the Tigers’ party, with Clark crossing the line just a few minutes later.
In the driving rain at Leigh, Castleford then further extended their advantage just before half-time, with Kirk Dixon going over in the corner.
Brilliant work from Luke Dorn and Frankie Mariano released Dixon, who just about had enough to score, 14-0.
That’s how it stayed until half-time, and while Widnes came out in the second half looking a little stronger, they never looked like they were catching the Tigers.
Jamie Ellis and Jake Webster put the result beyond doubt with a try apiece, the latter of which got Castleford fans dreaming of Wembley:
TRY Cas - Jake Webster is in and its fair to say Cas fans we are on our way to Wembley!!!!!! http://t.co/2cuis8Lof4— Castleford Tigers (@CTRLFC) August 10, 2014
Jack Owens did get Widnes on the scoresheet with a consolation try, but the day deservedly belonged to the Tigers, who were in complete control from the off.
Following the match, Clark and coach Daryl Powell revealed their jubilation to the club’s official Twitter feed, with both looking forward to the showdown with Leeds at Wembley:
Daryl Clark "This is so special doing it for my home town club. The fans came out in numbers and gave us a big lift today"— Castleford Tigers (@CTRLFC) August 10, 2014
Daryl Powell "Widnes have been superb this year and it's a fantastic effort from our boys. This is a dream final for me."— Castleford Tigers (@CTRLFC) August 10, 2014
It’s bound to be a historic occasion in two weeks’ time, with both sides looking to put their rotten Challenge Cup luck behind them.
However, if Castleford perform as they did against Widnes, then the trophy may well be heading back to Wheldon Road.
Leeds Rhinos 24-16 Warrington Wolves
Leeds Rhinos booked their place in the Challenge Cup final on Saturday, disposing of the Warrington Wolves 24-16 in a thrilling semi-final at Merseyside's Langtree Park.
Their date with destiny at Wembley now awaits, meeting Castleford Tigers on August 23 for the chance to lift the famous trophy.
They thoroughly deserve to be there, too, having put together an impressive performance against a formidable Warrington side, with Ryan Hall stealing the show.
Hall was at the centre of everything exciting for Leeds going forward, and it was hardly surprising to see the Englishman help himself to a couple of tries in the first half.
Though the 26-year-old looked within touch, he brilliantly negotiated his way to the line—dotting down to give Leeds the early advantage that their rugby deserved.
It was a stunning finish from Hall, who reaped the praise of Newcastle Falcons’ Lee Smith on Twitter:
Hall wasn’t done there, though, and scored another try moments before the interval to put the Rhinos in a healthy position heading into the second half, 14-0 up.
However, whatever Warrington manager Tony Smith said at half-time had an immediate effect, with Chris Bridge crossing the line in the 44th minute to add the spice back into the tie.
The Wolves then piled on the pressure with the game stakes finally appearing to become apparent, but Leeds dealt a hammer blow to their final chances with 67 on the clock.
After Rob Burrow broke away at pace, Joel Moon got himself into a perfect position alongside him and just about had enough to evade Wolves’ challenges to dot down.
That rather left Warrington without a will or a way back into the match, and tries from Stefan Ratchford and Ben Westwood either side of a Tom Briscoe score were more in consolation than anything else.
Though a tight scoreline in the end, Leeds never looked like faltering their lead after half-time. And if they continue such form in the final, then the trophy could be heading back to Headingley.
The Rhinos haven’t won the Challenge Cup since 1999, but they’ll be hoping to shake off such psychological damage when they take to Wembley. Based on Saturday’s performance, they’re ready to be champions once again.