Monday, 31 July 2017

Road to Wembley - Semi Finals

Road to Wembley - Semi Finals

The first thing I’ll say about hosting such a big game at a stadium that holds around 15,000 supporters is that parking is a nightmare!  Just finding a parking spot was an experience in itself and one that I hope will be less stressful in future years.  Both sides could have comfortably filled that stadium twice over and then some.  Anyway, that’s a story for another blog so let me re-cap the Challenge Cup Semi Final between Hull FC and Leeds Rhinos.

As soon as the draw for this semi final was announced I was pretty excited that I would be watching Leeds play Hull FC – two sides who have since continued to have successful Super League campaigns and, more importantly, a chance to see a side who have impressed and excited me all season and are current holders of the competition.

The Rhinos had reached this stage after coming through three pretty comfortable games in a 64-28 win over Doncaster, a 72-10 victory over Barrow Raiders before knocking out Featherstone Rovers by a score of 58-0.  Leeds had had it easy so far in this competition so I was very interested to see how they would fare against SL opposition.

Hull on the other hand had to overcome in SL sides in both of their previous rounds.  However, a 62-0 drubbing of Catalans Dragons in Round 6 was followed by a memorable 32-24 victory over SL leaders Castleford Tigers at the KC Stadium at the Quarter Final stage.

The semi final weekend coincided with the wife’s birthday again but unlike last year I wasn’t rushing off to a match on her actual birthday.  I was pleased that she was willing to come along with me and as we were at her parents in Hull it was just a quick ride over to Doncaster.  But, awkwardly for her, we were sat amongst the Leeds fans!!

Once we’d got parked up in the nearby retail park it had gone well past 2pm and I was keen to get into the ground and get a much needed pint before kickoff at half past!  Luckily we arrived on the correct side of the stadium to we needed to be so it was a quick shuffle through the turnstiles.  However, one look at the queues for the bars settled the fact that I wasn’t going to get a pint before the match.

Not to worry though as we both took our seats and enjoyed a tense start to the game where both sides matched each other well.  Hull’s early tactics sparked the Leeds fans into life and they were not impressed with referee Phil Bentham’s lack of penalties being awarded in their favour.  They were a lot happier when Hull had a try disallowed inside the first ten minutes and absolutely joyous when Ryan Hall scored the opening try on 20 minutes.

The Rhinos were 6-0 up and looking good for their lead.  The fans were in full voice and the wife and I half-heartedly clapped along to avoid any unwanted glances and questions our way about our loyalty.

For the record, I’m not generally a fan of either Leeds or Hull FC, but having watched the Black and Whites win at Wembley last August and, being a regular visitor over the last ten years or so, I feel I have built up a slight loyalty to the city so was pleased when Hull came back into the match.

The last 20 minutes of the half were the best as far as action with scores coming regularly for both sides.  Hull equalised, then Leeds re-took the lead, only for Hull to come back and score two more tries for an 18-12 half time lead.  Mark Sneyd was up to his usual tricks with an excellent kicking display but again the Leeds fans were hugely irate that Hull’s third try was awarded without consultation with the video ref.  The final pass to Chris Green did look forward even in the replays on the big screen.

Just as the half time hooter sounded we decided to venture downstairs to get that much needed beer we craved after the stress of finding a parking spot.  I almost lost the wife as she rushed off to beat the crowd to the bar so we didn’t get stuck in a mile long queue.  I was impressed with her skill and tactics, but she wasn’t happy when an elderly gentleman clearly jumped in front of us and ended up getting served before us – even if he was wearing a Hull shirt!

That try for Hull before the break was crucial as they came out much stronger and enjoyed a great 15 minute spell where they added another converted try and a field goal to give themselves a 25-12 lead.  It looked like Hull were strolling on to Wembley at that stage but Leeds pressed back and continued to make a game of it.

Right on the hour, Kallum Watkins’ try and goal in front of his own fans brought half of the stadium roaring to its feet as Leeds were back to within seven points with 20 minutes to go.

Queue the Hull side stepping up another gear or two though and Leeds struggled to get another look in.  When Liam Watts restored Hull’s 13 point lead five minutes later the wife and I almost forgot where we were sat and quickly retracted our delighted celebrations to a more subdued clap of the hands.

But Hulls place in the final was sealed on 72 minutes with an almost length of the field try from Jamie Shaul who seemed to slice through Leeds’ defence with ease.  Sneyd’s sixth successful conversion gave them a 37-18 lead and at that point many Leeds fans started streaming out of the ground much to the delight of the Hull supporters.

A number of the Leeds supporters around us who stoically remained until the end were rightly disappointed that their fellow Rhino fans were leaving in droves so early.  I’m also an avid believer of staying to the final whistle to support your side no matter what.

Old Faithful and Que Sera Sera were being sung across two stands with plenty of gusto as the Black and Whites added a seventh try and even a last minute consolation for the Rhinos couldn’t spoil the East Yorkshire party.

Thankfully the departure was quick and easy, partly because most of the Leeds fans had already left, and as we drove off we were both delighted that Hull had reached the final ... again.

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