Betfred Challenge Cup Final 2023
Leigh Leopards 17 Hull KR 16
Maybe it was written in the stars. Leigh’s 1921 cup final hero was a bandy legged, squat, powerful, inspirational no7 and captain Walter Mooney. In 1971 it was player-coach Alex Murphy, Lance Todd Trophy winner for his match-winning performance in the no7 shirt. And in 2023 minus 2 (really 2021 with two years lost for Covid) no7 Lachlan Lam, coached by another famous no7 in dad Adrian, wrote himself into Leigh and Challenge Cup folklore with the golden point drop-goal that decided the most compelling Challenge Cup Final of all time.
Wembley’s 80th Challenge Cup Final was an incredible storyline and spectacle of drama, heroism, noise, colour, and gripping tension, climaxed by unbridled joy and despair. A fitting script for the greatest stage. And cometh the hour, cometh the Lam.
Two clubs, rooted in communities, Hull KR calling in on a care home en route and Leigh, with the local council, ensuring hundreds of disadvantaged families were there to enjoy the moment of triumph. Both also reinvented themselves after relegation. The core values that make Rugby League the greatest game of all there for all to see. The reaction in the days since has been incredible, the breadth and scale of the BBC coverage ensuring the story was told and re-told, replayed, and enjoyed, reaching many people who would not normally take an interest in Rugby League. As one critic noted: ‘Overflowing with stories, characters and narrative, the staple diet of the modern media age, this was a final with enough incident to keep BBC viewers engrossed.’
In his moment of triumph, his visionary re-brand fully vindicated, described as ‘the best business decision I’ve ever seen’ by one high ranking entrepreneur in the Wembley royal box, Derek Beaumont was still thinking of the local community he’d championed and supported for so long. “What a great game for the neutral or new fan. It’s a fantastic advert for the sport,” he said. “Every single person connected with or supporting our club should be super proud of this achievement. We will make sure over the coming weeks to reach as many people with the trophy as we can.”
The Lams of Leigh will be enshrined in Leigh history forever. Coach Adrian, who immersed himself in the club’s history, tradition, and culture as soon as he arrived at the club, also could not hide the parental joy of rescuing his son from the reserve grade of Sydney Roosters and making him a star in little more than 12 months. “52 years and we got it,” he said in the immediate aftermath. “How good, how good, the cup’s coming home. Leythers, enjoy it!” He later added: “I’ve just seen Batley come in to prepare for the AB Sundecks final and thought: ‘That was us last year’.
“How that’s gone around in 12 months… an incredible story for rugby league to even be here. In the last 18 months, we’ve won everything in front of us. That’s not arrogance, it’s hard work. We had 15 new players this year and this is a magic moment, but we feel there are good times ahead for us as well.”
Lachlan earned 20 of 29 Lance Todd votes cast by the media and became only the second Leigh player to win the prestigious trophy. “I don’t want to make it about Lachlan, but it was a special moment,” Adrian said. “It was just really weird when he went to take the field-goal and the ball was thrown to him. I’ve coached him since he was six, so what went through my mind was knowing we had been in the opposing position a few times and been heartbroken. Serendipity.”
Talking of which, it came 21 years after Adrian scored a try and a drop-goal to help win a Challenge Cup with Wigan, having replaced Rovers’ now boss Willie Peters. While inspirational captain John Asiata replicated his 2015 NRL grand final win with the Cowboys, also 17-16 after golden point extra time.
Lachlan reflected on the crucial kick, the first one-pointer of his senior career. “I didn’t hit it as I wanted,” he said. “But it had the legs to go through.”
Completing the PNG connection was Edwin Ipape, player of the match in the AB Sundecks 1895 Cup Final a year before. “All the boys have worked hard and we’ve certainly deserved this,” Ipape said. “It is awesome, crazy. These are moments fans will have in their hearts forever, that’s why we play. It’s what I’ll remember.
“All my family and good mates were up late, at midnight, watching us play. They were emotional, sending me messages. You go out and play for them, your people and community, those that look after and believe in you. I’d love to take the trophy there!”
For all the drama that went on before, the game will ultimately be remembered for its incredible, frantic finale, Leopards, six points ahead after Tom Briscoe’s try, an incredible 8th in Wembley finals- six against Hull KR, and Ben Reynolds’ brilliant touchline conversion that proved so important.
In Rovers’ desperate final attack, though, Brad Schneider kicked high, Kane Linnett and Zak Harder challenged, video replays confirming it came off the Leopard’s head, and Matt Parcell got the vital touchdown. Brad Schneider coolly landed the conversion into the hordes of Rovers fans: golden point.
The Robins got a penalty, but Schneider failed to find touch, which set up Gareth O’Brien, unable to repeat his one-pointer for Salford that relegated Rovers in 2016, this one going wide. On their next set, Hull KR could only make halfway, Hardaker making an incredible four consecutive tackles that encapsulated the Leopards’ never-say-die attitude, and Schneider was off target again with a long range one-pointer, also conceding a seven-tackle set.
Down the field the Leopards swept, the tension unbearable. To play such error free and incisive rugby at such a stage of the game is a tribute to their resolve and coaching. The crucial drive was Robbie Mulhern’s, Rovers’ defence not moving up fast enough. O’Brien, crowded out, still found Lam, and his left foot did the rest.
As he always does, BBC commentator Dave Woods nailed it. “Lachlan Lam is a Leigh legend- 52 years ago it was a crafty halfback called Alex Murphy who lifted Leigh to the ultimate glory, today it was another craft halfback who won it for Leigh, and the proudest man is his dad.”
Leopards: O’Brien; Briscoe, Hardaker, Chamberlain, Charnley; Reynolds, Lam; Amone, Ipape, Mulhern, O’Donnell, Hughes, Asiata (capt). Bench: Mellor, Nakubuwai, Holmes, Davis. Coach: Adrian Lam
Rovers: Lewis; Ryan, Opacic, Kenny-Dowall (capt), Hall; Milnes, Schneider; Kennedy, Litten, King, Batchelor, Linnett, Minchella. Bench: Parcell, Storton, Hadley, Luckley. Coach: Willie Peters
Referee: Chris Kendall; Half-time 10-8; Full-time: 16-16; Attendance: 58,213.
Lance Todd Trophy Man of the Match: Lachlan Lam.
5 mins- Ben Reynolds penalty 2-0
15 Jez Litten try, Brad Schneider goal 2-6
26 Lachlan Lam try, Ben Reynolds goal 8-6
31 Sin bin Elliot Minchella (high tackle)
32 Ben Reynolds penalty 10-6
40 Brad Schneider penalty 10-8
47 Brad Schneider penalty 10-10
66 Tom Briscoe try, Ben Reynolds goal 16-10
79 Matt Purcell try, Brad Schneider goal 16-16
84 Lachlan Lam drop-goal 17-16