Five Challenge Cup moments 2012
It has been a chaotic week for rugby league. Amongst the billion dollar contracts, Channel Nine moaning and face-palm inducing State of Origin appointments, though, there is one event that shouldn’t be overlooked.
I’m talking of course about the 2012 Challenge Cup
As it does every year, this year’s final between Warrington Wolves and Leeds Rhinos had its fair share of drama, excitement, and dodgy English weather.
I was fortunate to be on hand to experience it all.
Here are the five pivotal moments that made the game, and my first visit to Wembley, so memorable:
1. Abide With Me
Unlike the relatively new concept of the ESL grand final, the Challenge Cup final is an event with more tradition than South Sydney and hating Manly combined.
To honour this, the pre-game entertainment takes on a more historic flavour than the usual thundersticks, mascot races and judges from The Voice consigning your favourite songs to cruel, unusual deaths.
The highlight of this is the performance of Abide by Me, the tradition Wembley Stadium anthem that has been sung before the Challenge Cup Final since the 1920s.
Whilst singing a Christian hymn prior to eighty minutes of refrigerator-sized men running over the top of one another may seem an odd concept to some, it is a spine-tingling moment when shared with almost eighty thousand people.
Each member of the crowd belts it out as though Jesus and his twelve apostles were about to take the field and have a run for the trophy.
It may not feature Tina Turner or beefy blokes running up the harbour bridge, but I would encourage all rugby league fans to give it a listen at some stage.
2. The Heavens Open
Twenty minutes into the contest and the scores were locked at six-all, courtesy of tries to our Warrington pal Joel Monaghan and Leeds’ Ian Kirke.
Warrington had had the better of the early stages, but Leeds had fought back hard to bring themselves back into contention.
And that’s when nature decided to throw us all a curve ball.
A storm produced by days of unnaturally-warm London weather erupted over Wembley, lashing the field with torrents of rain and turning the field into a melted ice-rink.
Not able to play their quick-passing style of play, Warrington began to falter badly, and it was Leeds who grabbed the ascendancy.
Within five minutes the Wolves’ frustration boiled over, causing Paul Wood to do his best Brett White impersonation and plant one on Carl “40/20” Ablett’s jaw, allowing Kevin Sinfield to slot an easy penalty and give the Rhinos the lead.
As if rubbing it in the rain continued to thunder down, though bizarrely only at the end where the Warrington supports were seated, leaving them to flee for the upper levels whilst the Leeds fans were singing in perfect comfort.
3. Delaney’s No Try
By half-time Warrington had regained the lead, going into the sheds 12-10 ahead.
Only three minutes into the second half, though, that appeared to be gone.
Not content with just being ridiculously smashed in big games in Australia, Brett Hodgson was belted by the shoulder of Kylie Leuluai’s shoulder.
That allowed Leeds’ Brett Delaney to swoop in and do what he does best (ie: run in a straight line without ever thinking of passing) and score a try.
After a plethora of looks by a video ref, who must be a blood relative or secret lover of Russell Smith, however, a double knock-on was called, and Leeds were denied the, er, lead.
The moment proved to be a huge turning point, and at the end of the day, the closest the Rhinos would get to the silverware.
4. Wire on Fire
Having survived a scare, and with the weather looking decidedly less grim, Warrington went back to their natural game rather than playing like thirteen Frank Spencer clones.
It was a move that paid near-immediate dividends.
In a ten minute space between minutes fifty and sixty, the Wolves stormed over for three tries, with Chris Riley, Ryan Atkins and Tyrone McCarthy all grabbing four-pointers and leaving the Leeds’ defence looking more exposed than Prince Harry on vacation.
Suddenly, a game that had been a genuine arm wrestle was turning into a bloodbath.
Kallum Watkins managed to grab back a try in the sixty-ninth minute for Leeds, but it proved to be too little, too late.
5. Hodgo’s Place in the Sun
With six minutes remaining and a fifteen point lead in their favour Warrington had the game wrapped up, but that didn’t mean that they were ready to put the cue back in the rack.
Getting ready to party like it was 2005, it was Warrington veteran and everyone’s favourite ragdoll Brett Hodgson who dummied, stepped, and slid his way over the tryline, adding to the four goals that he had already kicked.
As though it were pre-ordained, the end of the field filled with Warrington fans – which an hour ago had been more wet and miserable than the Australian Olympic swim team – was now bathed in glorious sunshine, every one of them chanting for Hodgo while his jubilant team mates swamped him.
A few minutes later he would be announced as the Lance Todd man of the match, and be a very happy Magpie indeed.