First published in League Express, Monday 26th Aug 2013
“Thank you for coming,” said the big screens at Wembley Stadium as the crowd began to make its way home.
And that message seemed so appropriate for Hull FC.
They came, but they didn’t do much more than that. As their coach Peter Gentle said after the game, they didn’t fire any shots, as their final score revealed.
On the other hand, maybe I’m being unfair.
Hull did tackle their hearts out. Their defence has been their strong point in recent weeks, and it was on Saturday.
And that was fortunate, because without that determination the result could really have been embarrassing for Hull.
My six-year-old granddaughter was at Wembley watching her first game of Rugby League, because her father is an avid Hull supporter.
After the game, she was observant enough to wonder why Hull were not very good at catching and running with the ball.
Didn’t we all!
Of course the weather didn’t help. The last final that fell as flat as this one was the 2001 game at Twickenham, when St Helens won a dour clash against Bradford in similarly wet weather.
But were there other factors at play?
Bad handling can be caused by a number of factors, including aggressive defence, inaccurate passing and a ball that is unsuitable for its purpose.
Several leading coaches have made it clear to me this season that they believe the Rhino ball is at fault, even though Rhino director Tony Colquitt made a spirited defence of the ball in this newspaper two weeks ago.
When the NRL invited companies to tender to supply its competition they sent six different balls to all the NRL clubs, asking them to test them all and give them feedback on which one they would prefer to play with.
Did the RFL do that? I don’t think so.
But you would think that for something so vital, testing the product in many different conditions would be vital.
As it turned out, this year’s Challenge Cup Final will not have attracted many new devotees of Rugby League, and may well have persuaded some potential supporters to stick with other sports.
Bill Anderson, one of our regular Mailbag correspondents, predicted precisely what would happen in our issue of 5 August.
“Through the wisdom of a person or persons unknown, a new elongated ball has been foisted upon the game. Unpredictable in flight because of its flapping aerodynamics, this ball is inhibiting the running styles and passing game of the players, who clearly can’t keep hold of it at the best of times. But when it is slightly wet, the play becomes a lottery,” he wrote.
Surely the RFL needs to set up an inquiry of its own, rather than taking the word of the manufacturer.
In fact this Challenge Cup Final was dogged by the memory of 1985, raising unrealistic expectations about the quality of what might be produced by the same two clubs 28 years later.
Hull had the added problem of the so-called Wembley hoodoo, and they continue to hold the unenviable record of never having won at the national stadium.
Several of their players seemed to be particularly weighed down by the pressure that is associated with playing in a Challenge Cup Final.
Last week I warned against fielding injured players, and on the evidence of Saturday Hull centre Ben Crooks looked to me to be still carrying the effects of the ankle injury he suffered four weeks earlier.
Hull signposted what they were going to do in the warm-up, when we could all see Ben taking the high balls instead of Jason Crookes. It suggested they were nervous about their right side, and it was Ben who dropped the ball that led to Wigan’s opening try.
Danny Tickle was another Hull player who made numerous errors, while their halfback pair of Daniel Holdsworth and Jacob Miller were also guilty.
The only two Hull players who stood out were Jamie Shaul and Aaron Heremaia.
Hull weren’t helped by the loss of Gareth Ellis with as rib injury after 14 minutes. And although Ellis returned to play in the final 30 minutes of the game, he wasn’t able to impose himself on the game as much as his coach might have hoped.
Wigan didn’t have to play brilliantly to win the game. But they played well enough. In the first half they had so much more of the play than Hull, and to go into the dressing rooms only six points ahead must have caused some sober reflection from Shaun Wane.
Wigan didn’t play as well as they had been doing earlier in the season, but in Matty Smith they had a halfback who played much better than the Hull halfbacks, constantly putting Hull under pressure. He was a deserving winner of the Lance Todd Trophy.
Featherstone’s valuable heritage
Last Thursday evening I had a very enjoyable visit to Featherstone, to see their game against Whitehaven but, even more importantly, to witness the work the Featherstone Rovers Heritage Foundation Project is undertaking under its manager Melissa Schiele.
The Foundation itself is run by Laurabeth Jaggar and her team of professionals, players and volunteers. This year it has raised in excess of £200,000 for community projects, which are targeted at improving health, fitness, education and literacy, as well as IT and employability courses.
Melissa comes with an excellent pedigree in Heritage and worked for the likes of the National History Museum in London. She aims to collect and fully digitise the club’s archive material, which has largely been collected by club stalwart Terry Jones over many years, so that she can place them on a single web portal, allowing online public access to the collections for the first time.
Featherstone Rovers really is a club at the heart of its community, and its great to think that its heritage in future will be visible online to people who may live many miles from this famous village.