Cooke try gives Hull place in new order

Hull 25

Leeds 24

If there is one thing wrong with the game in the current era it is the domination of the "big four" of Leeds, Bradford, St Helens and Wigan.

Only once over the last 18 years had a team from outside that cabal lifted the Challenge Cup, and that was Sheffield Eagles, under Kear's coaching, in 1998. Wigan were the beaten side at Wembley.

Now he has defied the natural order of things again. If he has dined out on the Eagles' triumph for the last few years, he will be able to enjoy breakfast, lunch and a hearty supper on the strength of Hull's performance in Cardiff on Saturday.

It is hard to make comparisons seven years apart, but Kear was adamant.

"This is the best," he said, "because we had to beat the last two winners, Bradford and St Helens, and now the world champions."

As with Sheffield, this was a victory that came from consciously targeting the competition.

"We felt all the way through our preparation, right back to pre-season training, that we could put ourselves in a situation where we would be able to win it and the players' desire to do that shone through today," Kear said.

Desire can take a club like Hull a long way, but a coach also needs to get his big decisions right; Kear did that, although not always with much to spare.

When he had to reshuffle his backs because of Shaun Briscoe's late diagnosis and hospitalisation with appendicitis, he put Nathan Blacklock at full-back - a position he had hardly played in over the last six years - and Motu Tony on the wing.

They are both players who are capable of defensive errors and they had their uncomfortable moments in Cardiff, but in the end the good outweighed the bad.

Between them, they were implicated in three Leeds tries, but they also contributed enough to Hull's attacking threat, which produced four tries, to justify Kear's line-up.

Likewise Danny Brough, who was a part-timer with York a year ago, but who was given the goal-kicking duties and put over four conversions and a crucial drop goal.

Brough might only be 22, but he knew enough about the history of the game to be haunted by thoughts of Don Fox and his famous missed conversion from in front of the Wembley posts to lose the 1968 final for Wakefield.

Brough kept his cool, but only got the chance for the match-winning kick because of a piece of instinctive play from Paul Cooke.

Cooke, the player most responsible for taking Hull to the final, had been relatively quiet, but with three minutes left he called for the ball, picked out a tired defender and ran round behind the posts to make the kick as easy as possible.

"I thought about just diving over the line, but I wanted to make it as straight as I could for him," said Cooke, who received proof afterwards that Hull's win had transcended the traditionally bitter rivalry between Humberside's two clubs.

Cooke might be a hero in West Hull, but he comes from East Hull and grew up supporting Hull Kingston Rovers.

"I've had about a million text messages from Hull KR fans," he said. "People have been gripped by this, whether they're red and white or black and white. This is special to all Hull people."

It is undoubtedly a city which has more than its share of detractors; it has recently been hailed as the worst place to live in the whole of Britain, so the local pride this famous victory will engender is doubly important.

Nor is there any room for doubt that they were the more deserving side. The Leeds coach, Tony Smith, chose to start with the injured Keith Senior at centre and lost him at half-time and he might also have had good value from Barrie McDermott at prop if he had not chosen to omit him.

One thing Leeds did have was the official man of the match in their captain, Kevin Sinfield, and his graciousness in defeat deserved some sort of award in itself.

"Credit to Hull," he said. "They were outstanding today and as a club they deserve some success. When I looked in the Leeds players' eyes, though, I could see that they were giving everything they had. They're a special breed of players and we'll get better from this."

But so will Hull. Smith said, as he digested his defeat, that the "big four" is a thing of the past and that if there is a ruling clique in the game, Hull are members.

They have done rugby league a service, not just by winning an enthralling final - the last "on the road" - before it goes back to Wembley, but also by showing that, with good management and good decision-making, a club can drag itself up to compete with and beat the best.

Hull: Blacklock; Tony, Yeaman, Whiting, Raynor; Horne, Brough; Dowes, Swain, Carvell, Kearney, McMenemy, Cooke. Substitutes used: King, Thackray, Saxton, Chester.

Leeds: Mathers; Calderwood, Walker, Senior, Bai; Sinfield, Burrow; Bailey, Diskin, Ward, Lauitiiti, McKenna, Ellis. Substitutes used: McGuire, Dunemann, Poching, Jones-Buchanan.

Referee: S Ganson (St Helens).

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