I was at Wembley on Saturday, primarily to watch my son’s school team play in the curtain-raiser.
I stayed on for the main game and enjoyed the closest Challenge Cup Final in years.
With no media duties, and a seat among the Wolves fans, it gave me a different perspective on the final.
Here are some five observations:
1. Organisers are right to keep the Challenge Cup Final feel ‘traditional’, and keep the razzmatazz for the Grand Final. But they could still do more in pre-match to keep fans engaged and entertained. And while the signs outside the stadium was good, it could really have done with some more of the activities which they do so well at Magic Weekends.
2. The attendance of 76,000 presumably included the near-empty ring of ‘Club Wembley’ membership seats. And I know the RFL can’t be blamed for corporate buyers opting not to use their tickets.
I get that.
And we have to accept it. But still, more could be done.
Our seats were on the back-row of the bottom tier, with the stand above us overlapping – we effectively had a roof above us.
There was no problem for us, but why sell those seats – which aren’t picked up by the TV cameras – and leave vast swathes of prime seats empty for millions of viewers to see? It doesn’t make sense.
And as for the top-tier, I don’t care how cheap they currently are, make them cheaper.
Make it so the place is full, the atmosphere electric. It’s a depressing thought that the rugby union Premiership will stage a regular season game – read that again, a regular season game – at Wembley this season and probably attract a bigger crowd than our Challenge Cup Final.
3. If Kurt Gidley had kicked a simple penalty, the game would have finished as a draw. And it would have been replayed next Wednesday. Seriously, who thinks that’s a good idea? How can a competition have golden-point at every stage, but not for the final? It doesn’t make sense.
4. The tense opening half made way for a nail-biting second-half (nice to see two Wiganers score tries for Warrington!). Ben Currie and Daryl Clarke impressed for Warrington, as well as Chris Sandow in the first half.
But credit to Hull FC for a fightback I never predicted... an hour on the clock, I thought their big forwards were gone.
5. The game was allowed to flow by referee Gareth Hewer, who did an excellent job, and backed his judgement on the big calls – he only once went to the video referee.
Hewer, incidentally, works full-time at Sellafield... which does beg the question: What is the point of having full-time referees, when part-time refs’ do a good enough job?
Hull FC have rested five players from their Challenge Cup-winning squad for tomorrow’s trip to St Helens.
Would Lee Radford have made the same decision if the league leaders shield really mattered? Would he have given them until Tuesday to celebrate their Wembley win? I’m not so sure.
Amid all the debate about the Super 8s format, many have overlooked the fact this race for top spot – between Wigan, Warrington and Hull FC – would be far more engaging and exciting if finishing top held more significance.
It means something, but it should mean a lot more.
It’s time the RFL looked at significantly increasing the prize money (currently £100,000) and giving greater kudos to finishing top of the pile.
Players and coaches may say finishing top means a lot but, as commentator Andrew Voss pointed out, does anyone ever get a tattoo for finishing as league leaders?
Wigan has far more sporting heritage than most towns, yet seems to lag behind in paying tribute to them.
A statue of Billy Boston, which will be unveiled in Believe Square at 11am tomorrow, will go some way to correcting that anomaly.
And it’s hard to think of someone more deserving than Billy B, even if the attention will go against his shy, humble personality.
The grainy footage, cold statistics and warm praise of his peers may go someway to doing justice to Boston’s incredible playing career (he earned a Great Britain call-up after just 10 matches for Wigan). But they don’t measure the impact he has had on this town. He has become an institution. A legend. A Welshman, but very much one of our own.
And that was encapsulated perfectly by a magistrate, after a joyrider hit Boston near his home in 1996.
Sentencing the young offender, he told the court: “If there’s one person you don’t knock down in Wigan, it’s Mr Boston.”
The rest of us, it seems, are fair game!