As the Warrington players went to their haunches and sprawled across the Wembley turf in defeat, the emotional and physical damage inflicted in the baking Wembley sun was painfully evident.
The anguish involved in losing a cup final is excruciatingly difficult to deal with, let alone having to deal with knowing that cup glory was there for the taking with just over 20 minutes remaining. Not only did they surrender a 10-0 lead, but to then have victory snatched from their grasp in the shape of one Danny Houghton wonder tackle must surely have made it much more difficult.
Collectively, the club has been incredibly gracious in defeat, and their classy response to an unenviable defeat deserves extensive acclaim. Tony Smith was quick to congratulate Hull and counterpart Lee Radford for ending their Wembley hoodoo. But deep down, Smith and his players will be sickened by the fact that they didn’t close out the game, given that they had controlled large parts of the contest.
Emphasis will be quickly moved to this weekend’s clash at Catalans, with the Wolves still in a great position to win the League Leaders’ Shield and the Grand Final. However, trying to get the image of Hull lifting the Challenge Cup trophy aloft out of their minds will be a challenge hard to overcome.
For the youngsters in the group, such as George and Toby King and Brad Dwyer, getting over such a setback will be tough. Individually, Kurt Gidley will have to move on from his crucial penalty miss, while Ben Currie needs to get over the fact that he was a few blades of grass away from becoming a Wembley hero. In a sport that is played so much on emotion, getting over those moments is hard for those with the toughest mentality.
In Tony Smith, Warrington have a coach who can help them get over that setback, but whether he can do it within the space of seven days is an unenviable challenge. However, the Wolves simply can’t afford to let their performances slip now, or they risk ending the season trophyless. Wigan players were still overcoming their Grand Final defeat by the end of pre-season, which highlights the challenge ahead of Smith’s man management skills.
Additionally, the injuries suffered at Wembley are hugely damaging to the Wolves. With Chris Sandow set to join Kurt Gidley on the sidelines in France after suffering a medial strain, Wire will be without two of their shining lights for the Dragons. Meanwhile, Ben Westwood, who was terrific in the final, has all but been ruled out for the season with a torn pectoral, another body blow.
Put together all the problems stacked up, and Warrington have perhaps their biggest ever challenge ahead of them in their quest for silverware.