If the powers who write the scripts for the Challenge Cup have a sense of humour, Jamie Thackray will be the match-winner at Wembley next month. "Man of the match and the winning try," says the prop, who plays for Hull against Wakefield in the semi-final tomorrow. "Wouldn't that be fun?"
Fun, yes, but it would also ensure that the controversy over whether he and his team-mates should even be in the competition will probably never die down. Thackray, in keeping with his chequered rugby career, is the man who should not have been there. If he is on his way to Wembley, he is getting there by an extraordinary route. The trail starts at Leeds, where he found himself unwanted at the start of the season and continues two divisions down at Doncaster, where he went out on loan. The next significant settings are two more National League clubs, Rochdale and Widnes, where Thackray played a part in taking Hull through their first two rounds of the Cup.
The trouble was that he had not been registered in time to play in those matches, something that neither he, Hull, nor the Rugby League realised at the time. "I didn't know anything was up," he says. "Someone asked me after the Widnes game whether I'd played against Rochdale and I said I had. I didn't see it as a problem, but then it got a bit nerve-racking, because we could have been kicked out." Hull got away with a heavy fine and a general feeling that their names might be on the trophy.
Thackray was there the last time they won it, at Cardiff in 2005, under the coaching of the man now in charge at Wakefield, John Kear. That is why he thinks he knows what to expect from Trinity tomorrow.
"I remember how emotional it was before our semi-final that year. Most of us were in tears before the game and we went out and played St Helens off the pitch. That's what John's good at. He makes you feel like you're playing the last game of your career."
Thackray has proved enough of an asset in his second stint at Hull to have been offered a contract for next season. It is the second time that wearing the black and white hoops has rescued a career that has also encompassed Hunslet, Halifax, Castleford, broken arms, disciplinary lapses off the pitch, Great Britain caps and bankruptcy.
He is likely to share game time tomorrow with Garreth Carvell, another Test forward who has had an interesting season. He signed for another three years at Hull, only to change his mind, leaving his future uncertain. "He's taken a bit of banter," says Thackray. "But we've just carried on. It's all up in the air and no one knows what's going to happen next."
That could be a commentary on Thackray's own career, but there is no doubt about its highlight so far. He and Carvell were both in the Hull side that beat Leeds at the Millennium Stadium and Thackray is not one of those players who insists that he lives exclusively in the present tense. "I watch the video of that final quite often. Not just the match, but the whole build-up, going down on the coach, walking on the pitch, the whole business."
This year would be extra special to a player who thrives on emotional engagement. "Because it's at Wembley and it's everybody's dream to play there. And it would be nice to play Leeds in the final."
That would not only give Jamie Thackray another of his regular opportunities to show people that they have been wrong about him. It would also take a remarkable, typically unconventional season – that started on the scrapheap at Doncaster and almost disappeared in a tangle of red tape – full circle.