Challenge Cup Final: Hull FC 18 Wigan 14
Wigan's daring late comeback wasn't enough to prevent Hull FC defending their Challenge Cup trophy.
Many had been unable to call a favourite heading into this decider, and by the full-time whistle of an action-packed, entertaining final which lived up to the pre-match building, both sides had scored three tries each.
Marc Sneyd’s superior goal-kicking ultimately proved decisive and, along with his tactical kicking, helped him become the first player to win Lance Todd Trophy man of the match prizes for successive years.
Mahe Fonua’s second try had given Hull a deserved 18-10 lead in the second-half. But Wigan kicked a foothold into the game when Joe Burgess swept over in the 72nd minute to cut the gap to four-points - and set-up a nerve-shredding finish.
George Williams went agonisingly close and then, in the final two minutes, Burgess was sent clear for a try which would have locked the scores before the conversion.
But a try was ruled out for a Williams forward pass - and FC held on to claim a victory. It was a case of too little, too late for the Cherry and Whites who showed plenty of character to get back into the match - but too many errors earlier.
It denied Wigan the chance to extend their record of finals wins to 20, as they lost their first Challenge Cup final since 2004, when the late, great Mike Gregory was in charge - and their first on the hallowed Wembley turf since the famous upset by Sheffield in 1998.
It was small comfort that they had played their part in an entertaining game. The glorious sunshine had promised a more entertaining match than Wigan’s 16-0 win four years ago - and it certainly delivered.
That was the third final between those sides, all of them won by the Cherry and Whites including the 1985 epic which featured a teenage Shaun Edwards; he was in the stands while Andy Gregory, Garry Schofield, Lee Crooks, Andy Farrell and Ellery Hanley were among the other legends in attendance.
As special guest Hanley was meeting the players, officials were quickly handing out updated teamsheets to the media - 18th man Liam Marshall wa drafted in after Tom Davies (ankle) was ruled out.
The game began at a frantic pace. Wigan were forced to absorb some early pressure from FC, but they broke the deadlock in the fifth minute.
Thomas Leulual’s clearing kick took a fortuitous bounce in field, where Anthony Gelling pounced and fed the supporting John Bateman. George Williams converted to give the Cherry and Whites a dream 6-0 lead.
But Hull roared back and scored the next two tries, both scored by their wingers, and both from attacking kicks. In both instrances, Wigan were guilty of giving away cheap penalties which gifted their opponents good position.
Fetuli Talanoa leapt to beat Marshall to Marc Sneyd’s angled kick for their first in the 14th minutes.
The halfback’s goal-kicking technique is certainly peculiar, turning his back to the posts, but it proved effective as he locked the scores up to chants of ‘Sneyydddddd’ from the watching tribe in Black and White.
A bone-cruncing tackle by Bateman dislodged the ball from the grasp of Scott Taylor, a Challenge Cup winner with both these clubs. But the set finished Mahe Fonua defusing Williams’ kick. A subsequent penalty eased Hull down field, and Burgess had to be alert to clear Albert Kelly’s measured stab-through.
Still, Hull had the repeat-set and from that position, Sneyd’s shallow angled kick wa palmed back by Albert Kelly, for an unchecked Fonua to pick up and score the simplest of tries.
Including their past two games, Wigan’s last four tries had all been from kicks - an area they wanted to brush up on.
Wigan quickly sought to redress the balance, but Gelling’s attempt to flick a pass on went forward under pressure from Talanoa.
Sam Tomkins went close but lost possession as he lunged for the line. It sparked an off-ball clash between Tomkins and Shaul which quickly calmed.
When Carlos Tuimavave spilled the ball, it provided the opportunity for Oliver Gildart to cut through the defence and touch down. Williams, who was off-target with his conversion attempt, floated a ball over on the stroke of half-time but the bounce beat the chasing players.
If Wigan had finished the first half the stronger, their opponents owned the next quarter as they dominated possession and territory.
Tomkins produced a great try-saving tackle on Kelly but FC remained on top. Sneyd’s majestic 40-20, under heavy pressure, gave Hull the position to power ahead as Fonua took a sweet Kelly pass and had the poise to touch down in the corner. Sneyd’s conversion made it 18-10.
Wigan’s attempt to get back into the contest were far too often undone by their own mistakes; Williams’ wayward pass dribbling over the touchline, knock-ons by Burgess and Bateman, a slip and a spill by Marshall. When they finished their sets, their kicking game was often poor.
On the hour, Wigan were broken again when Fonua powered over - only to be denied a hat-trick by the video referee, who adjudged Gildart was taken out in the build-up.
The extra official was called upon moments later, denying Clubb a try which would have thrown his side a lifeline. The prop lost the ball as he rolled over the line and replays suggested the ball had been dislodged by the Hull players, before he touched it down; either way, it was chalked off.
Chasing a two-score margin, Wigan looked panicky with the ball, with Williams’ footwork unable
But they persisted and, in the 72nd minute, it paid off as the ball was swept to the left and a crisp attack ended with Burgess arcing over in the corner. Williams was unable to convert, leaving them with a four-point margin to cut with five minutes to go.
In a nerve-shredding finish, Williams angled for the line but Hull scrambled well to deny him in the 77th minute. And, after some expansive attacking had picked apart FC’s defence, Burgess thought he had locked the scoreline up - only for a try to be ruled out for a forward pass.
A game of inches.
Hull FC: Shaul; Fonua, Griffin, Tuimavave, Talanoa; Kelly, Sneyd; Taylor, Houghton, Watts, Manu, Minichiello, Ellis. Subs: Connor, Bowden, Washbrook, Green.
Wigan: S Tomkins; Marshall, Gelling, Gildart, Burgess; Williams, Leuluai; Nuuausala, McIlorum, Clubb, Farrell, Bateman, O’Loughlin. Subs: Isa, Sutton, Tautai, Powell.
Referee: Phil Bentham
Lance Todd Trophy winner: Marc Sneyd