There is genuine Challenge Cup history to be made this weekend for either Bradford or Halifax – and while a place in the semi-finals of rugby league’s most prestigious competition is uncharted territory for most of the players that will be involved on Sunday, one man in particular is determined to call himself a cup semi-finalist.
The winners of this Sunday’s mouthwatering quarter-final at Odsal will become the first Championship side to reach the final four since Hull Kingston Rovers in 2006 – something Scott Murrell remembers all too well: largely for the wrong reasons. Murrell played in every game of the Robins’ run to the semi-finals 13 years ago, before a cruel twist of fate deprived a then-20-year-old Murrell of the biggest day of his career.
“The win against Warrington in the quarter-finals is something I remember well,” he recalls to TotalRL. “I have some fond memories of it, but I did my knee in training in the week leading up to the semi-finals, and I was actually on crutches at the game itself. I was only 20, it was my first year at Rovers and it was gutting not to be a part of it.”
Forced to watch from the sidelines, Murrell saw Hull KR decimated 50-0 by a St Helens side who are perhaps the greatest of the modern era – and as the years progressed, and Murrell’s career took him to Halifax – where he has forged a reputation as a club icon – he admits he thought his chance to play in big knockout games had passed. “We’ve been knocked out at the first hurdle in the last few years at Halifax,” he says.
“I thought my time had gone, playing in big games like that. But here we are.. a quarter-final of the Challenge Cup, and just 80 minutes away from a semi-final. We’re here, and we’re ready for it.” Murrell is unashamedly proud of his Leeds roots, but will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest servants in Halifax’s modern-day history. “Cut me and I’ll bleed blue and white,” he laughs – and it is that affinity he holds with the club that would make victory on Sunday all the more special: not to mention the added bonus of who the opponents are, too.
“Being a Leeds lad, and being a part of Halifax.. playing Bradford, it doesn’t get any bigger,” he insists. “I love this club, I love being around the boys and everywhere I’ve played, I’ve always given it everything. The lads say I’m obsessed with the fans because I get involved with them all the time – but I just love playing the game with a smile on my face. That’s what I try to rub off onto the boys.”
Bradford and Halifax have one win apiece in league meetings this season, but Murrell is in no doubt about who starts as the underdogs. “They’re the favourites,” he says. “They’re a full-time team, they’re above us in the league and they’ve got a quality squad – but so have we. We will turn up and we’ll enjoy the occasion.”
Having some so close to featuring in a semi-final over a decade ago, Murrell also has extra motivation on numerous fronts to get there again after such a long wait. His young children are the main incentive – but as someone who has spent years establishing himself as one of the best players outside Super League, putting pride into the Championship is also high on his agenda.
“It’d be massive to get there again, to the semis,” he admits. “I’ve got kids myself now, and it’d be great for them to see their old man running around in a big game. Because we’re not on telly, we don’t have that star appeal unfortunately! It’s massive for the Championship, and I hope it shows that there’s value in putting it on TV long-term.”
Plenty has changed since 2006: even if Murrell is fond of joking otherwise. “Maybe a beer belly and a few grey hairs, but not much else,” he laughs. Whatever the story at full-time on Sunday, and whichever side it is creating history, someone will go down in Challenge Cup history. Given the nature of his absence in the semi-finals 13 years ago, few would begrudge Murrell the chance to right that particular wrong this year.