MARTYN SADLER reflects on a memorable Challenge Cup Final
The official Met Office temperature at 3.00pm on Saturday at Wembley was 27 degrees Centigrade, although I suspect that the players of St Helens and Castleford Tigers might dispute that figure.
I strongly suspect that for them it felt much warmer than that.
Even so, that figure may well have made Saturday’s Challenge Cup Final the second hottest on record, although falling well short of the temperature in 1976, when St Helens defeated Widnes 20-5 in baking conditions.
Of course that game took place 45 years ago, before any of the players from Saturday were born.
Back then the St Helens team was unkindly dubbed the ‘Dad’s Army’ team because a considerable number of players were well into their 30s, including a front row of Kel Coslett, Tony Karalius and John Mantle. They were facing a much younger Widnes team and the general opinion was that they would wilt in the hot sunshine.
Of course they did no such thing, earning a glorious victory.
Sadly, many of those St Helens players from that day have since passed away, but I’m sure they would have been immensely proud of Saturday’s victory by a team that I suppose was young enough to be their grandchildren, if they could have seen it.
And it would have rung a bell with them, because the Saints team on Saturday also had its fair share of over-30s. Skipper James Roby leads the way, at the age of 35 and playing for the full 80 minutes. His performance was remarkable and his try straight after half-time was the crucial moment in the game. Without it I’m not sure St Helens would have won the match, but with it they seized the momentum and from that moment never loosened their grip on the game.
That try was a controversial one. It came from a kick by Jonny Lomax and as the ball descended it was touched by Mark Percival and just avoided going into touch. I thought the ball might have gone forward from Percival’s touch, and then Regan Grace, who’d had a foot in touch, knocked it back to Roby. Apparently that was okay because Grace picked up his right foot (the one that was in touch) first, before giving the ball to Roby. His left foot, which was the last to leave the ground, hadn’t been in touch.
I’m sure the incident happened too quickly for Grace to think carefully about that, so we have to say it was an extremely fortunate try. I wonder what the video-referee Chris Kendall would have said if Liam Moore had sent it up as a no-try.
The other Saints stars over 30 are Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook (35), Kyle Amor (34), whose delight at scoring the final try was one of the emotional highlights of the game, Kevin Naiqama (32), Joel Thompson (32), Lachlan Coote (31), Alex Walmsley (31 and Jonny Lomax (30).
All of them, apart from the skipper, were winning the Challenge Cup for the first time, and it’s logical to think that time was beginning to run out for them. Several of them won’t be with St Helens next season. It was particularly moving to see LMS bent over in the middle of the field at the final hooter, clearly overcome with the emotion of it all in what looks like being his last season as a Saint.
Castleford also had their share of over-30s, including Michael Shenton (turns 35 on Thursday), Grant Millington (34), Nathan Massey (32), Jordan Turner (32), Paul McShane (31), Jesse Sene-Lefao (31), Liam Watts (31) and Peter Mata’utia (30).
As at St Helens, we can expect some significant changes in personnel at Castleford under their incoming coach Lee Radford.
For me the most moving moment of the day was after the final hooter, when Sione Mata’utia, who had been unfortunately suspended and prevented from playing in the Challenge Cup Final, embraced his brother Peter, who had played his heart out for Castleford and was clearly emotionally distressed after the game.
A few days earlier it had been Sione who needed to be consoled, but it was deeply touching to see brotherly love coming to the fore. In last week’s League Express we had carried a major interview with Sione about the prospect of facing his brother Wembley, not guessing that the two would be prevented from facing each other. Sione had said there would be no mercy shown either way, but at the time I spoke to him he clearly couldn’t have imagined that he wouldn’t be playing.
The fact that he was prevented from playing was, for me, the only sour note of a wonderful occasion.