Wigan Warriors 12 Hull FC 16

Taulima Tautai takes on the Hull FC defence
Taulima Tautai takes on the Hull FC defence

Shaun Wane will have had the word ringing in his head all night as Wigan fell to Hull FC at the semi-final stage in the Challenge Cup.

Sneyd.

With every Hull attack, every bullet that dented the Wigan armour, the FC fans chanted their ringmaster’s name. Mark Sneyd ran this show.

On the same day Drake’s long-standing stint at the top of the Top 40 was toppled a week short of a record-equalling 16 weeks, Hull ensured Wigan wouldn’t extend their record of 19 Cup wins this season. And they have given themselves the chance to end their long-standing and unwanted record of never having won at Wembley.

Outnumbered in support, if not outsung, and facing the side at the top of Super League, there was a backs-to-the-wall feeling for Wigan throughout this semi-final.

Seven front-line players were missing from Shaun Wane’s squad. Prop Dom Crosby took his place in the side with a heavily strapped elbow and Dan Sarginson played on after breaking his nose.

The term ‘busted’ never seemed so apt.

But despite the masterclass from Hull’s half-back - they will wake-up with aches and pains to remind them they have been in a battle.

George Williams’ try to open the score caused confusion on some fronts.

The pocket of Wigan fans behind the opposite posts couldn’t see if the stand-off had made it over the line when he scurried underneath a clan of shirt-grabbing Hull players - and when the PA played the Fatboy Slim track which usually accompanies referrals to the video referee, there was an assumption in the stands that the scoreboard operator would have to wait for his first taste of action.

Sneyd opted to slot a penalty over when Ben Flower went high on Chris Green - and given the score and the fact Hull were only 10 metres or so from the Wigan line, the decision seemed strange, but it gave Hull an octane boost.

They spent near enough the rest of the half trying to unscrew Wigan’s watertight defence, coming up short every time - agonisingly so if the reaction of their fans was anything to go by.

And as the half-hour approached, they really thought they’d cracked it when a beautifully-timed pass from ex-Warrior and 2013 Cup winner Scott Taylor put Gareth Ellis on a head-first charge to the line.

Sam Tomkins desperate dive for Ellis’ ankles with no regard for his own well-being planted enough doubt in referee Ben Thaler’s mind for him to bring out Fatboy Slim again - this time it wasn’t a drill - a cue for both sets of fans to strain their necks to see the big screen.

And going off the cheers from everyone in the ground - it would have seemed the right call was both to allow and chalk-off the try - though the latter was chosen by video ref Robert Hicks, probably resulting in a few pints hitting the ground with force in the Hull end.

But the Airlie Birds continued to press - but their efforts were akin to trying to knock down a house with a spoon - and seven minutes before half-time, the sight of Wigan fans rising to their feet signalled a Warriors counter.

The balance of the contest could have swung out of Hull’s reach had Lewis Tierney’s effort not been chalked off for a forward pass from Oliver Gildart.

But, like Newton’s Cradle, the game swung back Hull’s way after the break - and out the other side.

Matty Smith tagged a routine two points onto Wigan’s tally three minutes after the restart when some mucking about prevented John Bateman from playing the ball, but that strike provoked a ruthless wave of retaliation.

A simple but smooth passing movement saw Steve Michaels slide over a minute after Smith’s penalty, and the FC fans’ thunder clap-like chant of Sneyd’s name was as effective as the scoresheet in revealing they were level at 8-8.

Wigan, and Sam Tomkins, were let off the hook under the next bombardment when the Wigan full-back fluffed Jamie Shaul’s kick chase.

Tierney’s boot proved an adequate last line of defence, showing video ref Hicks that Shaul had failed to get the ball down -but it didn’t relieve any pressure - and Sneyd was orchestrator again with just under half an hour to go when Fetuli Talanoa got his side in front for the first time.

Sneyd’s target with a high ball was Dom Manfredi, and when the winger couldn’t diffuse the kick, all Talanoa had to do was pounce on the loose ball to send his side into raptures - after yet another consultation with video evidence.

A long and worrying delay while Mahe Fonua left the field on a stretcher after a head knock reflected the confrontational nature of the following exchanges - with each side struggling to make any real impression in attack as defences took over.

And with each tick of the seconds on the clock, it looked like time was up for Wigan until Willie Isa crashed over with nine minutes to go - to the disgust of Hull fans who thought the final pass was forward.

But it wasn’t enough - and for another year at least, there will be no overnight queues at the DW Stadium for Challenge Cup Final tickets.