First published in League Express, Monday 29th July 2013
So it’s Wigan and Hull for the 2013 Challenge Cup Final!
That will be 28 years since that astonishing final between the same two teams in 1985, which Wigan won 28-24.
Of all the Wembley Cup Finals, that’s the one I remember best, as though it were yesterday, perhaps because so many of the tries were so spectacular, and because I’ve seen them many times since then.
Strangely the game had echoes of Sunday’s semi-final between Hull and Warrington, in that Hull scored a try through James Leuluai four minutes from the end to put them just four points behind Wigan.
Sadly for Hull, but happily for Wigan, the Airlie Birds couldn’t quite get back on terms that day.
But it didn’t stop us from talking about it afterwards forever and a day, with Kenny, Sterling, Gill, Ferguson, Leuluai and the rest embedded in our collective memory.
On Sunday it was Hull’s turn to hold on, as Warrington got back to within four points with a try by Ben Currie four minutes from time.
Just like Hull in 1985, Warrington couldn’t complete their comeback, although as Hull coach Peter Gentle pointed out, that probably felt like the slowest four minutes in history.
So Warrington, after having been in three of the last four Wembley finals, will miss out this year, and Hull will return to Wembley for the first time since 2008.
I hate to point it out, but Hull have never yet won at Wembley, while Wigan have won countless Challenge Cup Finals at the national stadium.
Hull came closest in 1982, when they drew with Widnes and then won the replay at Elland Road, with my old mate David Topliss having a stormer.
How he would have enjoyed watching his old team on Sunday!
You might think, with Hull’s record at Wembley, that they would be heading down to London without very much chance of winning the game.
But if I were Peter Gentle I would be pointing out to my players that it must surely be their turn to win. And they have to believe they can have Wigan’s measure.
It all contrasted starkly with what we saw on Saturday at Leigh Sports Village, when London capitulated against Wigan.
What the future holds for the Broncos is anyone’s guess, but what looks quite certain is that the club’s owner David Hughes has reached the end of the line.
I dare say there will be some anxious discussions taking place in various quarters about where the club goes from here.
And I’m sure that the topic will rear its head on this week’s Sky Sports BackChat programme, on which I will be appearing on Tuesday night this week.
As far as London are concerned, some radical solutions are needed.
On Sunday Tom Lineham and Ben Currie scored vital tries for Hull and Warrington respectively.
Last Monday at St Helens, the hosts saw winger Adam Swift score two sparkling tries, while Joe Greenwood picked up the matchwinning score.
At Wakefield on Friday night, the Leeds debutant James Duckworth scored a try, while the still inexperienced teenager Liam Sutcliffe kept his captain Kevin Sinfield out of the stand-off half role.
Sinfield, making his return from injury, had to be accommodated at hooker.
It’s worth mentioning that all the players I’ve mentioned so far in this part of the column, with the exception of Sinfield, are rookie players who potentially qualify for the Albert Goldthorpe Rookie of the Year award that we will hand out in September.
The previous winners of the Albert Goldthorpe Rookie of the Year award are Luke Burgess (2008), Sam Tomkins (2009), Liam Watts (2010), Jermaine McGillvary (2011) and John Bateman (2012).
It’s fair to say that the quality of contenders for this year’s award is much higher than it’s ever been before, and that there are probably around 15 players who would be genuine contenders to win the award.
We have never seen so many great rookies coming through the ranks.
In fact, when you watch players like Lineham and Crooks in the Cup semi-final it’s hard to credit the fact that they are indeed rookies.
So why have so many rookies emerged in the last twelve months?
I’m sure that part of the reason is the decline in the number of overseas players in our game.
I wonder whether that process will continue.
The words of Brian
I was delighted that the RFL Chairman Brian Barwick issued an open letter in response to my column last week.
Quite frankly, I agree with virtually everything that he says.
The only thing that I would point out is that criticism of the RFL is not a criticism of Rugby League itself.
The RFL is the custodian of the game, and we hold it to high standards.
If it makes decisions that we believe won’t benefit the game, then we will say so.
Nonetheless, it’s great to have someone with Brian’s obvious energy and ability playing such a key role in the game, and I shall look forward to working with him hopefully for many years to come.
A sad goodbye
Finally, another man who had great energy and ability was former Leeds coach Graham Murray, who led the Rhinos to the Challenge Cup in 1999.
Graham died on Sunday in Brisbane after suffering a heart attack.
He was a lovely, thoughtful, humorous man who will be sadly missed.
I would like to send my condolences to all his family and friends.