Over the years as a fan you develop a relationship between teams and players. One that I have a love hate one with is Brett Hodgson. So he is a great guy, I have met him a couple times over the years and he always seems to have all the time in the world to chat with you, win lose or draw. Saturday evening was no exception to this. But, goodness me, he is always on the team opposed to the one I am supporting and (except the blues) and they always beat them when he’s’ in there. I have dubbed him Mr Heartbreak for me. This time he was playing for the Warrington Wolves in the Challenge Cup Final and won the Lance Todd Trophy for man of the match in their 35 – 18 defeat of Leeds. Breaking my heart again and I told him as much!
The Challenge Cup at Wembley really is something special. Its the National Stadium for Rugby League in England. Its a time when the whole rugby league family come together to celebrate the sport. I was at Wembley for the RLEF AGM, but it gave me a chance to catch up with old friends and also to allow a new one to experience big time rugby league for the first time. Lukasz Lucka from Polska Rugby XIII was attending his first ever live game of Rugby League. I made sure that he got the whole experience. We did the walk up Wembley Way amongst all the fans, taking in their displays and songs and fun. We went to the Green man which is just packed with so many fans having a great time with drinks before the game, we counted 37 different jersey from around the world just in the pub.
Wembley Way, the crowds in front of the stadium
As part of the AGM we got to experience the game from the Club Wembley seats. Very comfortable and a good view of the field. In fact Wembley holds a special place in the hearts of many Polish sports fans. Its where Poland drew with England 1-1 to knock them out of qualification into the 1974 Soccer World Cup and qualify themselves, a tournament which they ended up getting third place defeating both Brazil and Argentina in the tournament.
The afternoon that was to follow, was spectacular. A great game of Rugby League and also allowed a bit of one-on-one time with some of the other European delegates there for Lukasz to network with. After the match we were in the great hall where for the post match function where we got to meet many of the players. I bet it would have been an experience for him.
Leeds Rhinos 18 – 35 Warrington Wolves
This was quite a historical match in many ways. It was Adrian Morely’s 150th appearance for the Wolves but more importantly for International Rugby League, Jimmy Keinhorst played in it. Who is Jimmy? Jimmy is the Hooker for the German National team! He was also part of the 2007 world record setting German team where he and his other three brothers, Markus, Kristian and Nick all played together on the same team against the Czech’s in Prague. It was the first time this had apparently happened in International Rugby League.
The Wolves were first out of the blocks with Joel Monaghan scoring. Hodgson was having a great day with the boot and put it over for the 6 points. Not long after, however, the Rhinos were over themselves with Ian Kirke scoring. At about the 22 minute mark, the Rhinos were awarded a penalty about 30m out from the try line and decided for a kick for goal. In my eyes this was the biggest mistake they made and in reality the turning point of the match. You could see that Warrington lifted from this in the knowledge that their defence had them beat. Trent Waterhouse went over for another Wolves try not long after to take a 12-8 lead. Another penalty goal to Leeds right before half time saw them reduce the lead a 12-10 lead however this just showed once again that Wire had their measure.
The view from Wembley Stadium
In the second half it looked as if Leeds had grabbed a miraculous try. A huge hit from Kylie Leuluai on Hodgson saw him spill the ball about 15 m out and Brett Delaney picked the ball up and went over the line. It went to the video ref, Phil Bentham, who rules a double knock-on and it went back for a scrum and Leeds feed. But that was really to be the last of Leeds’ great chances. From there the Wolves started to run rampant.
Accurate passing from Hodgson saw Chris Riley and Ryan Atkins go over in quick succession not long after that let off. The score now had blown out to 24-10. Tyrone McCarthy then went over. Leeds did get a couple tries back though, both being scored by Kallum Watkins, but with Kevin Sinfield having a shocker of a match with the boot it only got them to 18 points. Just to rub salt into the wounds further Lee Briers put in a drop goal and then Hodgson went over for a try himself, sealing the Man of Match and Lance Todd Trophy. In the end it was a 35-18 scoreline and the Challenge Cup torture for Leeds continues.
After the match it was a true privilege to be at the Great hall and meet some of the players. Many a time after a match the losing side does not hang around long, I unfortunately missed out on catching up with Jimmy Keinhorst. But I did have a chat with Tony Smith, Warrington’s Coach, also Brian noble was there and Mike Stevenson. Adrian Morley was also there and mixing it with the fans as was Lee Briers.
Lukasz Lucka Meeting Adrian Morley
We also got to chat with Brett. He had all the time for us and we recalled a few of the matches where he did damage to Cronulla when he was playing for the Eels. He seemed genuinely interested in what was happening in Polish Rugby League too. But the best moment of the match was probably when the actual Challenge Cup Trophy arrived and I got to hold it!
Myself and Lukasz Lucka with Brett Hodgson
Yes, we did get to hold the Challenge Cup Trophy!
As I was leaving the Great Hall, I bumped in to Phil Bentham, whom I got to know a few years ago. Phil was the referee at the Atlantic cup in 2010 between USA, Jamaica and Canada. Actually he was the one that came up to me to say hi! It was great seeing him again and we had a good chat. He had heard that Polish Rugby League had started and I introduced him to Lukasz as well. You all may remember that earlier this year in a Super League match, Phil had a freak accident where he broke his leg in a match. You will all be pleased to know the leg is coming along and he’ll be up to full speed by next years season.
Me’ol mate Phil Bentham Video Ref for the match. His leg is recovering well, though he could see I was not happy about the no try.
So all in all a great weekend. The whole experience I had was a privilege and one I will always savour. Later that night many of us went back to my hotel room to watch the USARL grand final that was being streamed live. Though the sound quality was not the loudest, it was great to be able to watch the game. It was a very tight contest between Boston and Jacksonville with the Axemen in the end coming out on top 28-22.
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