Final cut for Briscoe rocks Hull as Senior spectre looms

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The Independent Online

Briscoe was sent for a check-up yesterday after feeling unwell and has been diagnosed with appendicitis. "It's a terrible blow for him, but that's the luck of the Cup," his coach, John Kear, said. "The lad's in tears, but we can't do anything about it. He's probably out for the season."

The absence of Briscoe, such a success since his arrival from Wigan at the start of last season, means that the Kiwi international, Motu Tony, will probably come off the bench to start the game, with Tom Saxton taking his place.

Kear had already decided before his bad news that Chris Chester would play a part in the match after he had made a successful comeback from a rib injury against Wigan last Sunday. That means there is no place for Graeme Horne, the younger brother of the Hull stand-off Richard, who played in the previous two rounds of the Cup.

Kear does not believe that his team will face Keith Senior in the final, despite Leeds' insistence that he is fit. Senior, who was in Kear's Cup-winning Sheffield Eagles in 1998, badly twisted an ankle against Bradford last weekend and had it heavily strapped for yesterday's walkabout at the Millennium Stadium.

"I'll name my final team when Keith Senior is named. If he plays left centre, I'll play right centre," said Kear, whose own playing days are now a fading memory. "Keith's a friend of mine and I hope for his sake he plays, but it's all mind games."

Leeds' Tony Smith remains adamant that Senior is fit. "Unless something happens between now and then, he'll play," he said. "Medical staff have done a great job."

Senior pronounced himself confident and his captain, Kevin Sinfield, described him as "the best centre in the world".

Smith has left the young fringe players, Lee Smith and Nick Scruton, out of his 18 and there was a hint that Willie Poching, cleared to play after a fractured cheekbone, might still be the man to miss out.

Kear will join a select band if he can upset the odds for a second time in a Challenge Cup final. He presided over the famous Cup final when Sheffield beat Wigan seven years ago. If Hull do the same to Leeds this afternoon he will become the first coach since Alex Murphy in the early 1970s to win the Challenge Cup with two clubs.

Murphy, now recovered from his recent heart scare, achieved that with Leigh in 1971 and Warrington in 1974, so it is legendary company that Kear would be joining. But Kear was not even trying to pretend that it would not be a source of pride to him. "Because I'm a bit of an anorak on rugby league, things like that mean a lot to me," he said as he and his side inspected the Millennium Stadium.

Although it was still possible to get insulting odds of 5-2 against a Hull victory Kear does not believe that beating the Rhinos would be as big a surprise as beating Wigan in 1998. "We're a top side and we've beaten the two previous winners, Bradford and St Helens," he said. "It's completely different from 1998. The only similarity is our underdog status."

One of the refreshing things about the side that he will put on the park today is that Kear has gone out and found players in some fairly unlikely places. His scrum-half will be Danny Brough, who was playing less than a year ago for York in National League 2.

Richard Whiting is another who has risen from a lower level of rugby, at Featherstone Rovers, while Tony, Saxton and Jamie Thackray were all part of a Castleford side that experienced misery and relegation last season. "When I think of that and look at a stadium like this, I just can't believe how far I've come in a year," said Thackray, one of the successes of the season at Hull.

Against that, Leeds have the manpower and the quality to win this or any other final. It could, however, be Hull who have the sense of history and destiny. It is 20 years since they played in a Challenge Cup final, losing a classic to Wigan 28-24 - the same score by which they lost to them last Sunday.

They will settle for an ugly, hard-fought victory today and they might just get it.

Hull

FB Tony

RW Blacklock

RC Yeaman

LC Whiting

LW Raynor

SO Horne

SH Brough

P Dowes

H Swain (capt)

P Carvell

SR McMenemy

SR Kearney

LF Cooke

Substitutes: King, Saxton, Thackray, Chester

Leeds

FB Mathers

RW Calderwood

RC Walker

LC Senior

LW Bai

SO Dunemann

SH Burrow

P Bailey

H Diskin

P Ward

SR Ellis

SR McKenna

LF Sinfield (capt)

Substitutes: McGuire, McDermott, Lauitiiti, Jones-Buchanan

Referee: S Ganson (St Helens)

Kick-Off: 2.30 (TV: BBC 1)

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