Niall Evalds: Bittersweet emotions for Castleford Tigers’ Lance Todd Trophy winner after Challenge Cup final loss

Since the Lance Todd Trophy was first awarded to the player of the match in the Challenge Cup final in 1946, 10 men have been named as winners of the accolade while finishing on the losing team.

They include cross-code prop Frank Whitcombe – the first of them in Wigan’s defeat to Bradford Northern in 1948 – Hunslet’s Brian Gabbitas, who shared the award with Wigan’s Ray Ashby in 1965, and arguably the most famous of them all in Wakefield Trinity’s Don Fox in the 1968 ‘Watersplash Final’.

That list of 10 is without including the curious case of Eddie Cunningham, the Widnes centre who won the award in the drawn 14-14 final with Hull FC at Wembley in 1982 but then finished on the losing team in the replay at Elland Road 18 days later.

Our #1, in 2021, the Lance Todd Trophy winner. @NEvalds1993 👏 #ReadyToRoar | #COYF pic.twitter.com/exjpoX1mR4

On Saturday, Niall Evalds joined those illustrious names with a try-scoring display at full-back for Castleford Tigers. However, the 26-12 defeat to St Helens meant the man who was on the losing team with Salford Red Devils in last year’s final experienced the same bittersweet emotions as those who have gone before him.

“The more you play in these big games, the more you want it,” Evalds, who experienced the pain of a Super League Grand Final defeat while with the Red Devils too, said. “I’ve played in three finals now and I’ve lost all three, so I’m desperate to win one.

“I don’t want to finish my career without winning a trophy and everyone at Cas is the same. We’re just going to push on for the rest of the year in the league, and I hope all the fans get behind us and really help us along.

“At the minute, it’s bittersweet, but probably something I’ll look back on and be pretty proud. Like the rest of the boys, I’m pretty gutted, but we’ve to get ourselves together and we’ve got Catalans next week, so hopefully we can come up with a good performance.”

At the minute, it’s bittersweet, but probably something I’ll look back on and be pretty proud.

Lance Todd Trophy winner Niall Evalds

At 27, Evalds still has time to claim what has so far been an elusive Challenge Cup final winners’ medal or Grand Final winners’ ring, while he may have a shot at Rugby League World Cup glory later this year too if he gets the nod for Shaun Wane’s England squad.

The Halifax native is approaching what are considered to be the peak years for players too and Castleford head coach Daryl Powell, who will leave the club to join Warrington Wolves at the end of the season, expects there to be plenty more to come from the man who will be with the Tigers for at least another two seasons.

“He’s been a great signing by the club and to retain him was a great piece of business,” Powell said of Evalds. “He’s class, he’s so quick and elusive, and I think he’s learning and growing in the game.

“His game is getting better and he just needs to do that consistently now. He’s a champion player and I thought he was superb.”

He’s been a great signing by the club and to retain him was a great piece of business. He’s class, he’s so quick and elusive, and I think he’s learning and growing in the game.

Castleford head coach Daryl Powell on Niall Evalds

As well as being awarded the Lance Todd Trophy, Evalds took some consolation from being able to play in front of a restricted crowd of 40,000 at Wembley after his first visit as a player last year was in an empty stadium save for a handful of media and dignitaries.

He took pride in what the Tigers achieved in getting to the final and does not believe preparations could have gone any better, with the focus now switching immediately back to Super League and Saturday’s trip to leaders Catalans Dragons.

“I played here last year with no fans and I didn’t get the big game feel, I’ll be completely honest,” Evalds said. “All of the boys were so excited driving into the stadium and seeing all the fans, and you can’t replicate that.

“As gutted as I am, it was a special occasion to play at Wembley and we’ve got to be proud of ourselves.

“I think all week we got the preparation spot on, we spoke how much it meant to each of us, and what it meant to the town, fans and our families.

“But credit to Saints, they’re a champion side and they proved that in the second half. The hot conditions made it tough and it was an arm wrestle and they just got the better of us in the end.”

Lance Todd Trophy winners on the losing team*

Frank Whitcombe (Wigan, 1948), Tommy Harris (Wakefield, 1960), Brian Gabbitas (Hunslet, 1965 – joint-winner with Wigan’s Ray Ashby), Don Fox (Wakefield, 1968), George Nicholls (St Helens, 1978), David Topliss (Wakefield, 1979), Robbie Paul (Bradford, 1996), Gary Connolly (Leeds, 2003), Kevin Sinfield (Leeds, 2005), Niall Evalds (Castleford, 2021).

*Widnes’ Eddie Cunningham also won the Lance Todd Trophy in the drawn 1982 final and was on the losing team in the subsequent replay.

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