Challenge Cup: It appears Wembley ‘Walkabout’ may have run its course

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THE ‘traditional’ Wembley ‘Walkabout’ is becoming less traditional by the year.

There was a time when many of the great Challenge Cup final stories would stem from the eve-of-final brief training session.

All the injury doubts would emerge as journalists were able to cast their eye over the last practice for the respective finalists.

In 2008, Australian half-back Adam Dykes desperately tried to prove to Hull FC boss Richard Agar that he was able to run after his knee injury but, in truth, he could barely walk and it was obvious he would not play.

Three years earlier, admittedly at Cardiff, all eyes had been on Leeds Rhinos’ Keith Senior to see if he would be ready to face Hull FC barely a week after suffering an ankle injury against Bradford Bulls that saw him leave Headingley on crutches. He got through the session and was named, but did not last the course in the game itself and was a gamble that backfired as Leeds went on to suffer the last big shock in the competition’s climax.

However, with everyone having strained to see the state of Senior’s fitness, no one had realised that Hull full-back Shaun Briscoe was actually missing from that last run; he was in hospital with appendicitis prompting a late call-up for Tommy Saxton.

Then, of course, there was the mother of them all, Wigan’s Kris Radlinski completing the practice at Murrayfield in his carpet slippers having spent most of the week in hospital on a drip due to an infected foot.

The Great Britain full-back had it drained on the morning of the match, was passed fit and duly won the Lance Todd Trophy as man of the match.

Craig Huby, too, was at the heart of it all 12 months ago as the Castleford Tigers prop went through his paces to test out his dislocated elbow.

But that was behind closed doors, something which has become the norm of late.

This is because in 2010 Michael Maguire, the Wigan coach, demanded that his side’s training session ahead of their final with Leeds be shut off from the assembled press.

He got his wish and it set a precedent as every coach since has taken up the same option.

It meant we did not get to see Hull KR’s Albert Kelly give his recovering knee a decent examination to answer all the lingering questions about his state of fitness.

Furthermore, though, there was an added development yesterday when all the players themselves were denied the chance actually to train on the hallowed turf.

There was good reason; the pitch has recently been relaid and the cautious groundsman was keen not to see it disturbed by about 40 players hammering around on it for the best part of an hour barely 24 hours before kick-off.

So, instead, the finalists just got to have a gentle stroll around, admittedly still a useful exercise for Rovers especially given only three of their players have experienced a Wembley final before.

There was chance to take pictures with the Cup if desired – that scamp James Donaldson from Rovers even daring to dance against superstition by actually touching it – and familiarise themselves with the surroundings.

Liam Salter, the homegrown Hull KR centre who will face Joel Moon today, almost missed the teamshot as he casually emerged from the changing rooms. And then got quicker and quicker as he raced to make the picture.

Phil Lowe, the Great Britain World Cup winner who is on the board of Hull KR, was there to soak it up, too, admitting he still got a “tingle” 35 years after famously winning the Challenge Cup with Rovers at the old stadium.

Ben Cockayne looked like a player who might not have made the cut. He was a little more withdrawn from the rest.

For Leeds, Brian McDermott did the decent thing and provided us all with a story, naming his team and revealing the unfortunate Jimmy Keinhorst is the one to miss out.

Ash Handley, the 19-year-old winger in the 19-man squad already knew he had come along just for the invaluable experience but Keinhorst, having played the last 12 games for Leeds, can rightly feel aggrieved at missing out to Mitch Achurch.

Anyway, now for the action...