The Hull coach, Peter Gentle, will rely on a couple of Crook(e)s to help him lift the Challenge Cup today, though neither Ben Crooks nor Jason Crookes were expected to be on the Wembley team-sheet a few weeks ago.
Crooks, son of the Hull legend Lee Crooks, who played on the losing side in the 1985 Cup final against Wigan, was supposedly out for the season with an ankle injury. That would have been a blow to Black-and-White hopes, because no centre in Super League played better than him in the first half of the campaign. But, said Gentle: “He’s trained this week and he’s ready to go.”
The beneficiary of much of Crooks’s good work this season has been his winger Tom Lineham, but he joined the injured list a couple of weeks ago and has not come off it in time. That has left a vacancy for the recall of Crookes, the signing from Bradford who was prolific until his own season was interrupted by injury.
“He was our leading scorer when he was playing, so it would be foolish not to pick him,” said Gentle.
The other player to fail this week’s round of fitness tests is Joe Arundel, but the bonus for Gentle, should he choose to take it, comes in the shape of the vastly experienced Richard Horne. He has not played since May, but would bring the versatility of having played most back-division roles, plus hooker. The signs, however, are that the coach will stick with Aaron Heremaia, whose own flexibility has been an asset in recent weeks.
The most difficult decisions for the Wigan coach, Shaun Wane, have been at left centre, where Ian Thornley looks to have edged out Jack Hughes, and the second starting prop, which is likely to be Ben Flower. Wigan were given their jerseys by the club’s former captain Andy Farrell at a presentation on Thursday night. No one was prouder than Farrell’s cousin and successor as skipper and loose forward, Sean O’Loughlin. He was their main injury worry over the last couple of weeks, but his calf is now regarded as perfectly fine.
Wane comes into this final with one piece of baggage discarded, but another still carried: he has always been disappointed that injury kept him out of the 1985 final, which Wigan won 28-24, with its special status as the best ever. “I did feel a bit sorry for myself, because I’d played in all the previous rounds, but I was happy for my team-mates, for the club and the town,” he recalled yesterday.
Wane’s immediate future was settled this week when he agreed a one-year contract extension. The Cup means enough in the town that the remark by Wane’s chairman, Ian Lenagan, that it will be extended further if Wigan win today is only slightly tongue-in-cheek.
If Wigan win, the town will become the first to hold the Challenge Cup and the FA Cup at the same time, following the Latics’ victory at Wembley in May. With a fit Sam Tomkins on deck, they should have the firepower to complete that double, but Hull have shown that they can defend against the odds.
The winners could be the side capable of slogging it out in wet conditions, with a greasy ball and plenty of errors. A re-run of 1985 could be a little too much to expect.