Challenge Cup final: Hull's bid to make history comes unstuck at Wembley against Wigan

Wigan 16 Hull 0

Hull came to Wembley to make history, but it was all of the wrong kind.

Wigan did not need to be anywhere near their best to win one of the most one-sided Challenge Cup finals of the last quarter of a century.

Hull were the first side since St Helens in 1989 to be kept scoreless for 80 minutes. It was the lowest-scoring final since Hull lost 10-5 to Hull KR in 1980.

The talk in the build-up had been of 1985 and the classic these same two clubs served up in the annual showpiece.

“More like 1885,” said someone claiming an even longer memory. For a while, it rained hard enough to evoke comparisons with 1968; it was a little like the infamous Watersplash Final, but without the drama.

It had just two truly memorable moments. The first came at 10-0, when Josh Charnley chased and dispossessed Jamie Shaul, when he was on his way to a long-range try that might have made a match of it.

The second was Sam Tomkins, dancing his way through for a dazzling little try two minutes from time – an isolated moment of pure class.

Rumours were circulating before the match that player and club would use the aftermath of victory to confirm the game’s worst-kept secret – that he is departing for the New Zealand Warriors at the end of the season.

That announcement never came, but that brief vignette of Tomkins at his best was a reminder of how much he will be missed.

The announcement that did come, via the modern notice-board of Twitter, was from the Wigan chairman, Ian Lenagan, backing up his earlier statement that a Cup win would earn Shaun Wane an extra year on his coaching contract.

Wane looked as though he might have preferred to be told – or even asked – personally, but there is now no disputing the success he has made of his dream job of coaching his home-town club.

“It’s credit to the players, for the character they showed in difficult conditions,” he said.

There were no pats on the back for the Hull coach, Peter Gentle. The Humberside rumour mill had it during the build-up to the final that, win, lose or draw, he would be sacked by a fiercely ambitious chairman and owner, Adam Pearson, by the end of the season.

This defeat and the depressing manner of it will stir that pot again, even though Gentle dismissed it all as fantasy. He had no regrets about including young players like Shaul and Ben Crooks, who proved vulnerable, because he had no real alternative.

“They were our best option and I was happy with the young guys,” he said. That leaves the older guys, several of whom will not be happy with their performances.

“The more we turned the ball over the more we panicked,” said Gentle.

That applied to the seasoned professional, Daniel Holdsworth, as much as it did to his halfback partner, Jacob Miller, who celebrated his 21st birthday two days before the final.

By contrast, Wigan had the two most influential players on the soggy field, in their half-backs, Blake Green and Matty Smith. They both had strong kicking games and kept it short and simple when they passed the ball.

Whether the England coach, Steve McNamara, will heed Wigan calls for Smith to be drafted into the World Cup squad is another matter, but he has already made a better fist of playing scrum-half for Wigan than many predicted when he came to the club via Crusaders and Salford.

His was not a performance necessarily to set the pulse racing, but that was true of Wigan as a whole. What they were was highly effective, especially by contrast with opponents who had lost their way.

Given that two such well-supported clubs were at Wembley, an attendance of 78,187 counts as something of a disappointment. There should have been “full house” signs up on Saturday, just as there were for their meeting 28 years ago, which was watched by over 98,000.

Figures like that will rouse the old debate about playing the final earlier in the season, although that would not change the fact that rugby league is affected more severely than most sports by the recession.

This final will have won few new converts for the code. It simply was not that sort of carnival match and will be remembered mainly for its dour, attritional rhythm under steel-grey skies.

In a typical case of luck of the draw, the two teams now play each other in Super League on Friday night, when they might easily manufacture a thing of beauty.

What it will not change is the remarkable situation of both the Challenge Cup and the FA Cup being ensconced in Wigan – an historic first.

And one last history alert; Hull still have not won at Wembley.