ANDY KELLY recollects being slightly “sulky” at the 1986 Challenge Cup final.
That was not just because his side Hull Kingston Rovers lost – the whole squad and an army of red and white fans felt that pain – but due to the fact the England second-row had been left helpless when the tense showpiece against Castleford was very much in the balance.
The record books show it was Malcolm Reilly’s Castleford who edged home 15-14 at Wembley but that does not give the full picture.
Of course, their star-studded East Yorkshire opponents had almost rescued a victory when John Lydiat scored a try in the final moments, leaving John Dorahy with a touchline conversion to win it and secure only the club’s second Challenge Cup glory.
The Australian stand-off, however, was off-target so the league champions and favourites fell.
“I was right in line with it,” recalled Kelly, who is now Huddersfield Giants’ head of youth.
“Roger Millward had brought me off and put Gordon Smith on and, at that time, once you were substituted, you didn’t get the chance to go back on – so I had a little bit of a sulk for a period!
“I was reinvigorated by the Lydiat try, though, which was down the side we were sat.
“We willed that kick to go over but it just never got the flight.
“It’s one of those things; sometimes it’s mapped out and I actually think in reflection, though, it would have been lovely to have a winner’s medal, I’m not sure we were the best side on the day.”
That is very magnanimous of Kelly who, with Rovers returning to Wembley today against Leeds Rhinos for their first Challenge Cup final since, is a little less understanding about another major talking point in the game.
Rovers had pinned so much on Gavin Miller, their influential Australian loose-forward from Cronulla who eventually won Man of Steel that season for his dominating performances among the English elite.
At Wembley, however, a hamstring was tightly strapped after he had picked up an injury beforehand and he clearly was not fit.
Kelly thought Millward, a “shrewd” coach he still admires, should have taken Miller off in the second half and not himself.
“I thought it was the wrong decision,” he insisted. “Gavin Miller was a player we fed off and he couldn’t run. We put Gordon Smith on who was another feed player and, for me, he took a runner off; I was a player who could live off space and run into space.
“I’ve been a coach myself since and you do see the other side of the coin. I guess if you have an ace in the pack – and Gavin Miller was a game-changer – you play him.
“If he’d had one moment in that match where he could have brought some of the football he was capable of, he could have changed the direction of the final.
“From a coach’s point of view he left the ace out there and took the runner off.”
Kelly had starred with hometown Wakefield Trinity before KR paid a sizeable transfer fee for him in 1983. There was plenty of pressure as he was dubbed the “new Phil Lowe” with reference to the retired Rovers legend, who had helped win the 1980 Challenge Cup and also the World Cup with Great Britain eight years before.
But on Miller, he said: “I rate him as highly as a lot of good players I’d played with.
“I had the good fortune at both Wakefield and Hull Kingston to play with Ray Price, Mark Graham, Steve Ella, Gary Prohm – an outstanding centre – and John Dorahy but he ranks right up there.
“You can’t deny Gavin Miller was one of the top players in the world, not just this country, for a good number of years. I caught up with him at the semi-final earlier this month at Headingley.
“I was doing some media work and saw his distinguished looks so made my way down after the game and caught up with him and a number of other Hull KR players.
“It was good to see them and reminisce a little bit.”
That was the last great Rovers era, having won championships, the Challenge Cup, Premierships and the John Player Trophy during the early to mid-80s.
Kelly, 54, admitted: “I can’t believe it’s been nearly 30 years between drinks. On Saturday, Hull Kingston have to come up with their best game of the season and hope that Leeds just fall short.
“You can not argue that Leeds aren’t the best side in Super League at the moment and, if they are allowed to get their offload game going, Hull Kingston Rovers might have a torrid afternoon.
“And that’s everyone’s fear – that it may be one-sided – but Hull KR have shown on this cup run there’s a bit of bite in that team!”