2014 Challenge Cup final: The case for Castleford against Leeds

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Castleford Tigers booked a place at Wembley for the first time in over half a century by thumping Widnes 28-6 at the semi-final stage of Rugby League’s Challenge Cup, earning Daryl Powell’s bruisers a 9/4 quote to lift the trophy for the first time since 1986 against Leeds Rhinos.

The Tigers’ turnaround since last season, when they finished 12th in the 14-team Super League, has been remarkable – they currently lie fourth after 23 games, level on points with their Yorkshire rivals and just two behind leaders St Helens.

Leeds have been the game’s dominant force in the northern hemisphere over recent seasons, winning Super League’s Grand Final five times since 2007, and Brian McDermott’s side should be worthy, if slight, favourites on all known form.

However, backing the Rhinos at 1/3 to take this ranks as sheer madness considering their dreadful record in Challenge Cup finals so far this century.

The last time Leeds lifted the trophy was all the way back in 1999, when stand-off Iestyn Harris inspired Graham Murray’s men to a 52-16 win over London Broncos.

They’ve gone home empty handed six times since, with three consecutive London losses between 2010-12 following defeats in Edinburgh and Cardiff (twice) when Wembley was being renovated.

Castleford coach Powell’s status as a former Leeds player and coach should make for even more spice in this local derby.

The 49-year-old appeared in both the 1999 final win and the 2000 loss to Bradford, while his record in the tournament as a coach was bolstered by victories against Leeds and Castleford during a spell with tiny Featherstone Rovers two years ago.

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