If Hull Kingston Rovers defy the odds to win the Challenge Cup ton Saturday, it will be a triumph carved out of potential chaos.
To say that the Robins have had a mixed season does not come close. They began with almost a new team and have had key players in, out and shaking it all about ever since.
In the early weeks of the season, it looked as though Terry Campese would lead the Rovers’ revolution, but then he was ruled out for the duration by a ruptured knee ligament. Albert Kelly, a very different player but an equally devastating one on his day, took on the mantle, but his season seemed over after injuring his knee in training.
He has shown remarkable powers of recovery, however, and has been named by his coach, Chris Chester, in Rovers’ squad for Wembley.
Chester was adamant this week that Kelly will play only if fully fit. There is a warning from history to back him. The Robins were addressed before their semi-final by Gavin Miller, who played the last time they were at Wembley in 1986, but was found out by his hamstring injury.
The leader Rovers have found in the absence of their two playmakers is Tyrone McCarthy, one of their lower-profile signings last winter.
McCarthy knows a thing or two about making up for a gap in experience. His third game in the first team at Warrington was the 2009 final against Huddersfield. “It would be a great honour leading the team out at Wembley, but I’d much rather it was Terry Campese doing it,” he said. “I would gladly give up the arm-band to have him in the team.”
In the latter stages of the season, the Robins have benefited from the experience of Tony Puletua, who, in another example of fluctuating fortunes, could not get a game at struggling Salford.
Chester admits to having been consumed by nerves before his one Cup final appearance, Hull’s shock win over Leeds in 2005. He has been the epitome of calmness this time, despite the difficult decisions he has to make.
One of them was whether to go for the pace of Kieran Dixon at full-back or the more battle-hardened Ben Cockayne. Leeds have been forced into a reshuffle in the forwards by the absence of Paul Aiton. Adam Cuthbertson is listed at hooker, although he is unlikely to play there very much, whilst Mitch Garbutt gets a starting place after just a handful of Leeds appearances. At the other end of the scale, Danny McGuire plays his 400th match while Kevin Sinfield and Jamie Peacock take part in their last Challenge Cup finals.
Behind their powerful pack, is the firepower of what many are calling Leeds’ finest backline. Some would still go for the early 70s line-up of Alan Smith, Les Dyl, Sid Hynes and John Atkinson, although, the only time that precise combination played at Wembley, against St Helens in 1972, they lost.
Few expect them to lose this afternoon, although it is worth noting that Rovers have already broken one Wembley tradition by maintaining their form before the final.
Rovers have won all their games since their semi-final win over Warrington. Could the time be right for a team that has already broken so many of the unwritten rules?Reuse content