Wigan made it 19 Challenge Cups and the scoreline might reflect a comfortable win for the Wembley kings on Saturday. But this was a hard-fought final played out in very wet conditions, which the Warriors handled much better than Hull, Sam Tomkins scoring a converted try in the final seconds to seal the outcome.
HULL FC 0 WIGAN WARRIORS 16
by Tim Butcher at Wembley Stadium, Saturday 24th August 2013
It was a merited win. With Sean O’Loughlin back to lead his side magnificently and the Wigan forwards on top of their game from start to finish, halfbacks Matty Smith and Blake Green were able to completely outshine their opponents.
Smith was the runaway winner of the Lance Todd Trophy with his work at pivot and smart and varied kicking game. He did more than his fair share of tackling too. Centre Iain Thornley also impressed with some penetrative running in the left centre, sub Scott Taylor the most damaging forward with the ball.
Wigan coach Shaun Wane clearly views the Challenge Cup win as his first major trophy and was keen to enjoy the moment.
“I woke up this morning and thought that to win the Cup today would be a dream. And this is an absolute dream for me,” he said at the post-match press conference. “I wanted the players to write their own name in history.”
It might be written that Hull gifted Wigan the win, having to make almost 50 per cent more tackles by spilling the ball with regularity. One or two sides this season have ‘gifted’ wins to the Warriors in similar fashion.
Much was made in the build-up to the final of Hull’s record of never having won at Wembley and that was exposed as bunkum by several commentators.
But many Hull fans will take some convincing there is no hoodoo hanging over the club.
Their side defended magnificently, coping with Wigan’s mesmerising wide plays with great efficiency. Only once in the game did that fall down, when Thornley scored the only try of the first half, and that was after Blake Green’s pass to Sam Tomkins went to ground and the big centre picked up the ball and broke the line with a brilliant run.
But the mantra that defence wins games was exposed as a myth. To have any chance of winning at this game you have to be able to score too, and Hull never looked like doing it between the first two minutes and last ten minutes of Saturday’s final.
Whether it was the weight of occasion and expectancy, the infamous non-stick ball the RFL have introduced this season, or a higher and malignant force bedevilling the Airlie Birds, experienced players found the basic skill of taking a pass, or hanging onto the ball in contact, impossible on the day.
Talented stand-off Daniel Holdsworth, who has inspired Hull to most of their best wins this year, was perhaps the biggest culprit – although he put in a monster stint in defence – dropping several passes. He didn’t kick too cleverly either with one or two exceptions. Ben Crooks was another, at least in the first half, to struggle with his handling, his inability to collect Green’s grubber that almost led to a score to Wigan in the fourth minute seemingly making him a nervous wreck, although to his credit he redeemed himself in the second half.
“The more we turned the ball over the more we panicked,” said Hull coach Peter Gentle after the game. “We didn’t fire a shot.”
Gentle opted to go with boom rookie Jamie Shaul at fullback, for only his fifth first grade game after making his debut at Wakefield at the start of April, with Richard Horne left out of the 19-man squad. It was a good call, Shaul looking Hull’s most penetrative player and almost, almost getting his side back into the game in the 49th minute when he broke away and almost ran the length of the field, only for Josh Charnley to catch him and knock the ball from his grasp.
It was the pivotal moment of the game. Wigan got possession and at the end of that next set Smith put in a long kick that Shaul, who must have been desperate for a breather, had to turn around and collect before being hemmed in by the Wigan chase.
Hull had set off like a house on fire courtesy of Pat Richards putting the game’s kick off straight into touch. Holdsworth’s penalty kick to touch from the centre spot put Hull deep into Wigan territory and a spirited set of six ended with Danny Houghton being held on the last inches from the line.
A high tackle by Joe Westerman on Ben Flower allowed the Warriors to get out of their own half and that was the end of Hull’s threat for virtually the whole of the first half, if not the whole game.
Wigan’s first assault on the Hull line almost produced a try. Green’s stab through to the left was totally misread by Crooks and he was only saved total embarrassment when his winger Jason Crookes managed to somehow stop Richards getting the ball down.
On the next attack Shaul knocked Darrell Goulding’s kick into the in-goal at the other side of the field before Charnley could get to it, the referee checking with video referee Ian Smith that Tom Briscoe had not pushed Charnley and hampered his chase. The replay proved contact was minimal, and the Hull end cheered, even though they had to drop out from under the sticks.
And it wasn’t long before they were dropping out again when Crooks had to kick dead a Sam Tomkins kick into the left corner.
Hull were under the cosh and Houghton’s long kick from dummy half early in the tackle count was a relief, although Green replied in kind at the end of the next set.
Hull’s most effective riposte came when Holdsworth sliced a bomb and the ball was hacked on by Crookes, although Sam Tomkins ran the ball back without much threat.
Tomkins was tackled in the air by Tickle just as injured Hull skipper Gareth Ellis was walking down the tunnel to the dressing room. The game looked up for Hull, but there was little immediate change as a Green bomb was collected and returned with interest by Shaul; then Houghton was almost through down the left before a Miller bomb was taken by Charnley.
A late shoulder by Michael McIlorum on Holdsworth as he hurried a pass to Tickle, who dropped, it was missed by the ref before Wigan scored their first try after Crooks knocked on a Green bomb.
There was an element of luck about it, as Green’s pass to the left was a fizzer and bounced in front of Sam Tomkins. The Hull defence lost its stride, Thornley picked the ball up, fended off Tickle and rode the despairing cover tackle of Houghton to go into the left corner. The video referee had a quick look to check for a knock on but there wasn’t one, and Richards converted magnificently from the touchline.
Almost immediately after the restart, McIlorum was racing downfield from dummy half and his kick down the right wing was just collected by Briscoe as Charnley chased.
With just over a quarter of the game gone, the Wigan fans were already celebrating.
But, somehow, Wigan didn’t manage another try before half-time, even though Hull kept giving them the ball back.
On 25 minutes Tickle dropped Holdsworth’s pass on Hull’s ’30’. Then Miller’s ambitious pass sailed three feet above Kirk Yeaman and into touch 20 metres out.
Thornley was nearly through again twice, and it took desperate Holdsworth tackles to cut him down.
McIlorum lost ball on the line as he looked certain to score. Richard Whiting collected, and hoofed the ball downfield for Crooks to chase under the advantage rule, but the centre was deemed in front of the kicker, and it was scrum back on the Hull 10 metre line. From it, Yeaman dropped the ball in a tackle.
Smith’s bomb was patted back by Charnley but straight into the hands of Yeaman.
Then Crooks spilt a routine pass on own ’30’ before Charnley knocked on on the Hull ’20’ in Yeaman’s tackle.
When Hull did get to the other end of the field, thanks in the main to an Aaron Heremaia scamper, Andy Lynch, off the bench, offloaded to Jay Pitts, who was obstructed chasing his own kick. On the second tackle after the tap, Miller dropped the ball.
Hull couldn’t do anything right, and Holdsworth’s ad hoc clearance kick summed that up as it hit a Wigan player and went into touch, which gave the Warriors one more attack, Smith hoisting his last second field-goal attempt wide.
“I was quite happy with 6-0 at half-time,” said coach Gentle. “I didn’t think we could play as poorly in the second half but the boys proved me wrong.”
After the turnaround, Smith and Green’s long kicking game kept Hull penned down, Smith’s early 40/20 attempt being brilliantly kept in play by Shaul, although he was then pushed back almost to his own goal line.
Taylor almost charged over and when he was stopped play was brought back for a high tackle on him by Whiting and Richards converted the ten-metre penalty for an 8-nil lead.
Hull were, technically, not dead and buried and Wigan gave them chances to attack. Logan Tomkins dropped the ball on his own ’35’ and a high tackle by brother Sam on Heremaia 20 metres out got the Hull end excited, but Tickle knocked on.
When Whiting made a terrific break from his own 20-metre area, Shaul knocked on his inside pass.
But then Shaul collected Smith’s slid grubber and away he went, ears pinned back like a thoroughbred, looking all the world like a scorer until Charnley appeared on his blind side to tackle him and knock the ball from his clutches.
By the time Shaul had recovered his breath and got back in position he was having to collect Smith’s clever long kick and take a hammering in front of his own line.
Pitts withdrew with a shoulder dislocation but there was the welcome sight of Ellis coming back on before a lengthy hold up as Darrell Goulding was strapped to a stretcher after suffering a head knock trying to tackle Yeaman.
Play was restarted with a Hull penalty, Mossop pinged for interference in the same tackle but Holdsworth knocked on cold on the Wigan ’20’.
Westerman did the same after O’Loughlin was pulled for a ball steal on O’Meley. The Hull loose forward was almost immediately penalised for a high tackle on Charnley for Smith to trap Shaul in goal with a mesmerising spinning grubber.
And then a Heremaia spear tackle on O’Loughlin gave Richards the chance to extend the lead to 10-nil from in front of the sticks.
Ten points isn’t usually a hill of beans but the way that Hull were playing it looked a mountain.
Holdsworth lost the ball in a tackle and Houghton just caught Green short, before Thornley was tackled on the line.
Crookes made a hash of Smith’s raking kick to touch and a Green grubber was taken on the line by Whiting before Shaul made a half break to start a bit of a Hull revival.
Crooks’ kick down the right, saw Hull get the ball back, but a small knock on by Houghton on 10 metres ended that hope.
Two minutes later Briscoe was almost in the left corner as he chased his own hacked on kick after Yeaman’s tackle on Harrison Hansen dislodged the ball. A minute later Richards put Holdsworth’s grubber kick dead for Hull’s only GLDO of the game.
Holdsworth knocked on Richards drop-kick from under the posts.
Briscoe made a break from deep, but his kick through to nobody was a token gesture and by the end a hopeful Holdsworth punt from a scrum on his own line was all Hull had to offer.
Yeaman’s high tackle on McIlorum gave Wigan the position for the try that sewed it up.
Green flighted a crossfield kick on 14 metres which was caught on full by Tomkins, who stepped twice across the sliding defence and went into the left of the posts, with 58 seconds left on the clock. Cue a WIgan pile-on in front of their fans.
Richards’ goal was a formality and the unfettered celebrations began.
GAMESTAR: Matty Smith produced a fine halfback show with both hand and foot behind a magnificent pack.
GAMEBREAKER: Jamie Shaul was just 15 metres away from becoming a Wembley legend when Josh Charnley raced up behind him and picked his pocket.
TOP TACKLE: Josh Charnley single-handedly stopped Hull getting back into the game in the 49th minute when he chased back to halt Jamie Shaul’s breakaway.
28 Jamie Shaul
2 Jason Crookes
23 Ben Crooks
4 Kirk Yeaman
5 Tom Briscoe
6 Daniel Holdsworth
34 Jacob Miller
8 Mark O’Meley
9 Danny Houghton
17 Liam Watts
12 Danny Tickle
11 Gareth Ellis (C)
13 Joe Westerman
Subs (all used)
33 Aaron Heremaia
14 Richard Whiting
10 Andy Lynch
19 Jay Pitts
Also in 19-man squad
1 Sam Tomkins
2 Josh Charnley
3 Darrell Goulding
17 Iain Thornley
5 Pat Richards
6 Blake Green
7 Matty Smith
10 Lee Mossop
9 Michael McIlorum
15 Ben Flower
11 Harrison Hansen
12 Liam Farrell
13 Sean O’Loughlin (C)
Subs (all used)
20 Gil Dudson
16 Chris Tuson
21 Scott Taylor
23 Logan Tomkins
Also in 19-man squad
Rugby Leaguer & League Express Men of the Match
Hull: Jamie Shaul
Wigan: Matty Smith
Penalty count: 7-10
GLDO Forced: 1-3
Referee: Phil Bentham