31st July 2017, 17:13 | ChallengeCup
By STEVE MASCORD
IT’S a curious case: a question that has become a cliché only because the answers are invariably clichés.
On the surface, there is nothing wrong with asking a coach or player who wins a knock-out game who they would prefer to play next. The answer does not necessarily denote disparagement; some teams in all sports are more suited to the style of play of others.
Equally, players and coaches have more personal connections with some rivals than others; maybe it’s their former club or their dad’s club or the one they supported as a child.
But in the modern day, giving an opponent any possible cause for motivation is tantamount to treason and saying you would rather play someone could – at a stretch – be portrayed as an insult.
And so the question has died a quiet death, rarely asked … until after Saturday’s 43-24 win by Hull over Leeds at Doncaster, to secure Lee Radford’s side a Challenge Cup final berth.
“I really hope we get Wigan in the final,” Radford said. “I was on the coaching staff in 2013 and we didn’t do ourselves justice that day.
“There’s a lot of history between the two clubs, both clubs announcing we’re going to Australia to play our first fixture in NSW next year.
“There’s a lot of respect between coaching staff and players and owners.
“So, yeah, that would be a fairytale fixture for me.
“We’re going back to Wembley for two years on the spin. I don’t think that’s been done since the fifties at this club and we’d love to win again.”
Radford’s comments could have ended up on Salford’s dressing room wall at Wembley and as Todd Carney kicked 40-20s at the Halliwell Jones, it looked like they might.
But in the end we have the Challenge Cup final Radford wanted – the match-up that I sat up until 2am in 1985 and wondered at, the game I still regard as the greatest I’ve ever seen.
It’s indicative of a club that’s done it their way over the past half decade. Last year, Radford was said to be under threat when players held a meeting without him after a loss.
Unlike almost every professional club in the world, they did not disguise the fact the meeting happened or shun questions about what was said.
Radford sees a final against Wigan as a fairytale fixture
Radford will be hoping for back to back Wembley wins
Since then, he has become something of a supercoach as the Airlie Birds swept all before them, taking out last year’s Challenge Cup with a tense 12-10 win over Warrington.
The game Radford references above was a 16-0 loss to the Warriors – back when Sam Tomkins move to the New Zealand Warriors was a mere rumour.
Now Tomkins is back; a more mature player and the man whose drop goal ensured he and his team-mates will be on the bus for the August 26 showpiece.
In the Hull side is an antipodean scrum-half with the ability to underscore a somewhat nomadic career, Albert Kelly the provider of an unorthodox try that featured a raking cross-kick and heady one-handed pass in the semi.
He and George Williams may not be Sterling and Kenny – but for me the memories of that day 32 years ago will be everywhere when I walk up Wembley Way.