Rugby League Challenge Cup Final Preview: Wigan v Hull

Robert Critchley looks at the history and present day of two famous Rugby League clubs who face off in presitigious circumstances this weekend; it's Wigan versus Hull.

In 1985, the Challenge Cup Final was Wigan versus Hull at the old Wembley Stadium in front of nearly 100,000 people. The two names which stand out from this classic encounter are Wigan’s Brett Kenny, and Hull’s Peter Sterling, two Australian legends of the game who when not playing against each other over in England spent years playing along side each other for the successful Parramatta Eels side.

Their performances in the 85 Cup Final, along with other great names from these illustrious teams; Shaun Edwards, John Ferguson, Henderson Gill and Graeme West for Wigan and James Leuluai, Dane O’Hara, a young Garry Schofield, Lee Crooks and Steve Norton on the Hull side are looked back on as some of the finest in the 116 year history of this old trophy.

When the two sides meet again on Saturday afternoon, underneath the arch rather than the twin towers, the memories and the recollections of that epic final 28 years ago will not be very far from people’s lips. It will be a lot to live up to, but there is no doubt that the present incarnations of these Rugby League giants have players more than capable of replicating performances of days gone by.

Wigan will go into the game as favourites, despite being in the worse form of the season having won just one in the last four games. They have had a much easier route to the final than Hull, and in Sam Tompkins have the player which may be difference between the two sides. On his day, there is no finer player and if Hull allow him space, or their kicking game is weak, Tompkins will damage them with his sublime broken running.

Wigan’s back three, Tompkins, Josh Charnley and Pat Richards are a constant threat and the emergence of Charnley into one of Super League’s deadliest finishers will give Wigan more than enough firepower in the backs to combat anything that Hull can muster.

Where Wigan may struggle is against the much heavier pack which Hull possess. The Warriors can look a little light upfront, especially when engaged in the middle of the park and Hull, when on their game have the pack to beat anyone. The performances of Wigan’s four props, hooker Michael McIllorum and skipper Sean O’Loughlin will be pivotal, and if Wigan struggle for yards, Hull will punish them with a kicking game which has improved immeasurably since the start of the season.

The major contribution to the improvement in Hull’s kicking game, and for the turnaround in their results in general has been the recovery from injury of stand off Daniel Holdsworth. Holdsworth, in his first season with the black and whites since his move from Salford at the beginning of the season has been instrumental in their recent resurgence and was the difference between the two sides when Hull beat cup holders Warrington in the semi final.

Injuries are still playing a large part in Hull’s season, with centre Joe Arundel and winger Tom Lineham definitely out and doubts surrounding several others. The loss of Lineham especially, who has been in devastating form is a disappointment from a neutral perspective, as he is another outstanding young British talent with an exciting future ahead of him.

This is the type of game which Hull will be expecting to compete in on a regular basis. Their performances recently indicate that they will be challenging the likes of Wigan, Leeds and Warrington for the trophies in the coming seasons, and is the reason why they have signed the likes of Gareth Ellis.

The England international has come back to Super League after a successful stint in the Australian NRL, and after recovering from injury sustained before the season had even started is now leading Hull on the field from the front. His influence can not be underestimated, and like Wigan skipper O’Loughlin will need to perform to his peak for his side to win.

As with any final, in any sport it is the side which turns up on the day that will triumph. Hull seem to have the edge in the pack, and Wigan in the backs so expect a more expansive game from the cherry and whites than the black and whites. This is the oppoprtunity for players of each side to go down in their sides folklore along with Kenny, Sterling and the rest of the 1985 cast.

Another classic is on the cards, and Wembley will be rocking as these two titans of the game in England put each other to the sword to determine who will be taking the Challenge Cup home. Will it be a record 19th success for Wigan, or can the black and whites finally bury their Wembley hoodoo and add a 4th success to their three previous Challenge Cup Final victories.

image: © sazdar