THERE are certain fallacies that Australians moving to the UK are subject to.
You know the ones. The weather is cold, the beer is warm and English people love to whinge.
However, oddly these didn’t bother me to much when I packed my bags to call England home. I kind of like the cold. The beer isn’t that warm and as for the whinging, well… two out of three.
To be truthful, I’m no soccer fan, so the fallacy that worried me the most concerned my beloved sport of rugby league. First and foremost, that it’s a northern sport and I’m living in London. Secondly that I’d have to back a team called ‘The Broncos’, and for any Saints fan this is just blasphemy. Thirdly, that I was going to be subjected to a far lesser standard of footy than I have grown accustomed to watching back home in the NRL.
Much like the English genuinely believe we wrestle crocodiles for fun and are lucky to be alive due to the plagues of man-eating spiders our houses are infested with, the Australian sporting public genuinely believe that Super League is a poor mans version of the NRL. It’s the place where players come to hang up their boots, where once greats of the game come to earn some big dollars before they settle down — thus turning it into a very, very slow game.
What I’m here to tell you, after having experienced it for myself, is that you’re dead wrong. Any league that can produce the likes of a Burgess (let alone four) is doing alright in my eyes. If you need further proof, just head to a game and take a look for yourself. With plenty of Aussies on show, you’re bound to catch a familiar name to cheer out to.
On Saturday 24 August 2013 I took myself down to Wembley Stadium as a guest of the RFL to watch Hull FC take on the Wigan Warriors in the Challenge Cup Final. For those unfamiliar, the Challenge Cup is Super League’s version of the FA Cup.
Sadly the weather played more of a starring role than most of the players did. Rain turned the match into a very wet, slippery and mistake-riddled game that saw the Wigan Warriors run out 16-0 winners against Hull FC and claim their record 19th Challenge Cup victory.
However, not bothered by the weather, the 84,000 strong crowd showed up in their droves. Segregated into team colours their vocal cheers were so deafeningly loud that I literally had to cover my ears as I took my seat. I have never heard anything like this before at a game of footy. And I have been to my fair share of big games.
With the talents of Australians Daniel Holdswoth and Pat Richards on display for Hull and Wigan respectively, the 16-0 score line was no indication of the tight battle between these teams, and certainly doesn’t do any justice for the gutsy display showed by Hull.
From first touch the rain was belting down, with the ball acting more like a bar of soap. Warrior Pat Richards kicked the ball out on the full from kick-off and gave Hull FC their best chance of the game right in the first few seconds. Sadly, unable to convert this possession into points, Hull, as they did all match, shot themselves in the foot. Dropped balls, wayward passes, silly forced errors and kicks on the first tackle due to panic seemingly became their undoing as they gifted Wigan chance after chance. Wigan eventually took that chance in the 21st minute, crossing through centre Iain Thornley, picking up on a loose ball and touching down in the left corner. Pat Richards nailed a sideline conversion to put the Warriors into a 6-0 lead.
Warriors halfback Matty Smith missed a field goal just before the break, but it didn’t seem to matter too much as one point became two thanks again to the boot of Richards after a penalty awarded on the halftime buzzer.
Second half proved to be a different game. Wigan got on the defensive and Hull began to attack. Hull fullback Jamie Shaul pulled off a nifty little step which saw him race away with ears pinned back as he darted for the left hand corner. He looked certain to get his team on the board, until Wigan flyer Josh Charnley had a different idea. Charnley not only put on the pace to catch the running fullback, but also put on a try saving play which dislodged the ball from Shaul’s grasp and gave Wigan back possession.
Not long after Wigan were adding points again when Hull’s Heremania gave away a penalty. Richards made no mistake with his boot to give Wigan a 10-0 buffer. In the last minute of play a lacklustre but gutsy Hull dropped their heads in the dying stages to gift Wigan fullback Sam Topkins a try on the fulltime bell. It was followed by scenes of excitement and jubilation as Tompkins and his men ran to the Wigan fans and started their celebrations before Richards even put the icing on the cake with another sharp shot off his goal kicking boots.
In the sheds, Hull coach Peter Gentle didn’t live up to his name when talking about his boys performance, holding nothing back.
“I was relieved to go in only 6-0 down at half-time thinking that we couldn’t play any worse in the second half, but the boys proved me wrong.
“We just had too much of a tendency to panic.”
Despite their predictability to panic as they broke the line, Hull FC faced a strong opponent in the Wigan Warriors and should hold their heads high. To keep a classy outfit like that down to 10 points for 79 minutes, and in those conditions, was a feat in its own. One I’m sure was not lost on the Hull FC supporters who cheered until the end.